Is Trump the Manchurian Candidate?

Themes in the 1950s classic don’t seem so far-fetched in 2016 America

Richard Condon’s iconic 1959 book uncannily anticipated the Trump-Putin bromance

Is Trump the Manchurian Candidate? Themes in the 1950s classic don't seem so far-fetched in 2016 America
Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey in “The Manchurian Candidate;” Donald Trump (Credit: MGM/AP/Richard Shiro/Salon)

Last week, Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, said we should ask “real questions” about whether Donald Trump “is just a puppet for the Kremlin.” By that time, was already giving away free audiobooks of “The Manchurian Candidate,” Richard Condon’s 1959 book (transformed into a classic thriller starring Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra in 1962 and a worse remake with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in 2004) about communists controlling an American presidential candidate.

Hmm. Trump’s advocacy of dismantling NATO over unpaid bills, his continuous and effusive praise of former KGB chief Vladimir Putin (amply reciprocated), his bizarre request of Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his coming perilously close to supporting Russia’s annexing of Crimea, and his campaign’s redaction of the Republican platform plank in support of arming Ukraine against Russia can’t help but raise suspicions of a hard quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Donald Trump Jr. has said outright that Russians finance much of Trump’s empire, which is also hugely in debt to the Bank of China, while his father continues to hide what we might learn from his income tax returns.

Then there’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s lobbying for Russian oligarchs and the deposed Russian-allied Ukrainian president (all former big-time communists), while Trump foreign policy adviser Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn takes money from — and appears on — RT, the English-language cable-news network that beams Russian propaganda around the world.

To be clear, I’m not a Trump-style conspiracy theorist. I’m not suggesting that Trump has somehow been secretly brainwashed by communists; he isn’t “programmed” to do anything but run his mouth and demagogue the election. Hair wash, yes. Brain wash, no. (Or as Eugene McCarthy said, after George Romney’s 1967 claim that the military “brainwashed” him in Vietnam, “a light rinse would have been sufficient.”)

But some “Manchurian Candidate” themes resonate powerfully in this year’s campaign. Condon exposed the cynicism behind right-wing politics for the Cold War Eisenhower years and chillingly his book’s narrative applies today. By articulating how “brainwashing” symbolizes the mass process of humiliation and repetition that the American working-class experiences at the hands of cynical right-wing leaders, the book and film anticipate a time when the radical right subverts American democracy.

Condon’s page-turner features the right-wing mastermind Eleanor Iselin, a red-baiting Republican senator’s wife who works hand in glove with the Kremlin. During the Korean War, Russian and Chinese scientists brainwash a group of American POWs so that they provide Eleanor with an assassin, her son Raymond Shaw, to unwittingly murder his mother’s enemies while in a hypnotic state and eventually turn the White House over to an alliance of right-wingers and communists.

Before Trump’s candidacy, President Ronald Reagan’s sale of arms to Iran and President Richard Nixon’s and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s idolization of Mao, the book called attention to a worldwide power elite that, regardless of surface ideology, work in cahoots. Like Trump today, members of this elite see ideology solely as a means of gaining power. It’s no accident that Trump has changed his political party at least six times.

“The Manchurian Candidate” uncannily anticipated the Trump-Putin bromance. Explaining the affinity between McCarthyite Republicans and Kremlin operatives, Condon, with his signature iconoclasm, wrote that red-baiters and reds alike share “the conviction that the Republic was a humbug, the electorate rabble, and anyone strong who knew how to maneuver could have all the power and glory that the richest and most naïve democracy in the world could bestow.” Six decades later Trump and Putin thrive by convincing resentful voters to embrace fact-free realities. “Paranoiacs make the great leaders,” Condon wrote. “Resenters make their best instruments.”

Fringe conservatives are more prone than impassioned liberals to becoming “Manchurian candidates” because liberals do not think the government of the republic is a “humbug.” The right, distrusting of government, does not see the dangers of toying with it. After all, McCarthyism ultimately undermined U.S. national security by forcing the most capable diplomats out of the State Department on trumped-up charges, leaving no one to check the folly of the Vietnam War.

Like the brainwashing of soldiers in “The Manchurian Candidate,” Trump and the right hold the media and electorate captive through verbal humiliation and repetition. It is not Trump who has been brainwashed. He is not the Manchurian candidate. The American people are.

The communists humiliate Raymond to such a degree that he can only find peace in totalitarian control. Similarly, Trump’s economically and culturally humiliated working-class heroes believe in a leader who believes in nothing.

As a former Hollywood Disney publicist who promoted “Dumbo,” “Fantasia” and many other golden-age Dream Factory products, Condon saw the dangers of Hollywood PR applied to politics. For instance, Eleanor picks 57 as the number of communists in the State Department because “Heinz 57” made that number resonate. The notion that someone could perform a total “brainwashing” as depicted by Condon has long been debunked by experts, but the phrase evokes the malign influence of mass PR first identified in the 1950s.

Despite its dystopian theme, Condon’s novel offered a resolution that the film versions left out: reprogramming the assassin.

In the 1959 book, Raymond is programmed to kill the 1960 Republican presidential nominee so that his stepfather, vice presidential nominee Senator Johnny Iselin, can blame the Soviets, be elected president and then rule together with the Soviets.

In the novel, Raymond’s comrade, Major Ben Marco (the Sinatra character), not only discovers his brainwashing and recovers his sanity. He believes his own memory loss reflects the crisis that America is in. To thwart the conspiracy, Marco reprograms Raymond to shoot his mother, stepfather and self.

Can we Americans reprogram ourselves to a better end?

Anthropoid: A film looks at 1942 assassination of Nazi chief Reinhard Heydrich


By Fred Mazelis
26 August 2016

Anthropoid deals with a historically important event—the assassination of the leading Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, in the Czech capital over which he presided as the “Butcher of Prague” during the German occupation of the country in the Second World War.

Heydrich, a main architect of the Holocaust, chaired the Wannsee Conference near Berlin, where the plans for the extermination of European Jewry were adopted. He helped organize the Kristallnacht pogrom throughout Germany in November 1938, before moving on to his post in Prague.

The assassination of Heydrich was followed by the infamous Nazi reprisal attacks and mass executions in the Czech villages of Lidice and Lekazy, totally destroying them and resulting in the deaths of at least 15,000 people.

The new film, directed by Sean Ellis, is a straightforward account of the operation, organized by the Czech government-in-exile in London, that ended with the attack on Heydrich on May 27, 1942. He died a week later from his wounds. Unfortunately, the movie uses suspense and violence not as part of a serious examination of the events, but more as a substitute for such an effort.


After brief titles recounting the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which allowed German annexation of part of Czechoslovakia and was followed by partition of the country and its occupation by the Nazi regime, the movie opens with the December 1941 parachuting into the country of the Czech resistance fighters who were to carry out the attack some five months later.

One of the paratroopers has been slightly injured, and the film follows the pair as they successfully avoid being turned over to the Germans and make their way to Prague. There they present themselves to the remaining leaders of the gravely weakened Czech resistance, and face the task of convincing these men that they are not spies and agents of the Nazis who have been sent to finish the job of wiping out organized opposition.

Finding shelter in a safe house run by a Mrs. Moravecs, the men sent from London then engage in discussion and debate within the resistance over the merits and tactical advisability of “Operation Anthropoid,” the assassination plot that has been hatched abroad.

Some of these early scenes are effective. The Czech capital provides an evocative backdrop, and an atmosphere of dread and suspense is conveyed by the spare dialogue, as the plans are discussed under the noses of the Nazi occupiers. The two paratroopers, Czech Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Slovak Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy), do a credible enough job with the material they have been given, and Toby Jones as the local resistance leader is strong in his impassive depiction of a man who has already seen too much barbarism but has no choice but to fight on.

This only goes so far, however. There is little characterization of the partisans beyond their patriotic dedication. A romantic angle is introduced, in the form of the two young women (Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerova) who meet the partisans and wind up playing a supporting role in the plans, but this fairly conventional plot device does not lead any deeper.

Hand-held cameras serve the purpose of communicating terror and dislocation, but this is no substitute for broader context and an examination of both the occupation and the resistance.

The last 30 minutes of Anthropoid are designed to deliver a final jolt of excitement, but they end up instead providing the most graphic demonstration of the weakness of the film. The closing titles explain that the resistance fighters, holed up in an Orthodox cathedral in the capital, successfully held out for 30 minutes against a ruthless German assault involving many times their number and far more powerful weaponry. The filmmakers have concluded that the best way to communicate this is to depict a 30-minute firefight on screen. Once again, and most crudely in this case, this literal representation only demonstrates the relative paucity of history and thought in this project.

Anthropoid is not the first film to depict the assassination of Heydrich. In fact, two films, by very well-known German refugee directors, were rushed into production within months of the operation. Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman and the better known Hangmen Also Die!, by Fritz Lang, were both released in 1943, in the middle of the war.

The Fritz Lang film, from a story by Bertolt Brecht and with music by the famous Hanns Eisler, is one of the famous German-born filmmaker’s weaker efforts. It is an unabashed propaganda piece, in which everything is portrayed in terms of the “good” Czechs and “evil” Germans. The movie also meshed with the Stalinist efforts to portray the war in terms of a Popular Front alliance between the Soviet Union and the capitalist democracies against fascism. Brecht and Eisler, both then in Hollywood as refugees from the Nazis, were later forced to leave the US during the McCarthyite witch-hunt.

Hangmen Also Die! is indeed crude and, having been made even before all the details of the assassination were revealed, is not a faithful depiction of the events. It does contain ideas, however, and has little need for the violence thatAnthropoid delivers in great quantity.

The paucity of ideas is related to conventional and complacent assumptions about the war itself: that is was that between “good” and “evil,” between the Western democracies and fascism. The problem with this explanation is that it evades the issue of where fascism came from, that it was the foul product of the decay of capitalism itself. There is no mention in Anthropoid, for instance, of the role played by the Czech Communist Party during this period, when it withstood far more effectively than others the attempts of the Nazis to infiltrate and destroy the resistance movements.

No doubt in line with the attention drawn by the new film to the events of 74 years ago, a call has emerged in the Czech Republic to accord the assassins of Heydrich the respect they deserve. According to a report in the Guardian, campaigners have called for the remains of Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik to be exhumed from unmarked graves and reinterred with a proper burial.

By itself this would do little to explain the Holocaust and the struggle against Nazi barbarism. In fact, the crimes of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia are being used to obscure the significance of this history. A proposal to make a Prague cemetery a national memorial to “victims of Nazism and communism” avoids the necessary accounting with the source of Hitler and of the Second World War.

Anthropoid is also timely for reasons perhaps not intended by the filmmakers. Today Europe, and not only Europe, is once again the scene of the rise of ultra-nationalist and fascistic movements, testimony to the fact that the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich did not resolve the contradictions of capitalism out of which it emerged. There are also contemporary occupations, not identical to those of the Nazis, but evoking parallels. Today it is the United States that is the occupying power in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, facing the rage of the population and with the blood of millions on its hands.

Lady Dynamite and other Netflix comedies

By Ed Hightower
6 August 2016

There is plenty of room for satire in American life.

“On the nightly television news, after all, one is confronted with politicians and government officials, hirelings of finance and industry, who preach ‘moral values’ with a straight face. Cabinet ministers and generals, responsible for violence and terror around the world, praise peace and global harmony. None of this meets with a challenge in the media. The present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

So wrote WSWS arts editor David Walsh four years ago.

In the cultural or entertainment sphere too, one could rattle off many examples of hypocrisy, the worship of wealth and privilege and a general inclination toward escapism, conventionality and intellectual fraud. A brief flipping through the channels on television indeed confirms the painful fact that “the present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

Such an environment creates a contradictory atmosphere for artists. On the one hand, the pressure to conform, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, can be irresistible at times, as can a certain tendency to create only for the most narrow, insular layers, writing off any possibility of mass appeal. At the same time, and particularly in regard to the art of comedy, the present situation presents tremendous opportunities. The venal corporate executive, the corrupt layers around the legal system, the brazen insincerity of religious charlatans, the banality and brutality in Hollywood—all of these virtually beg for ridicule.

W/ Bob and David

This reviewer welcomed the news last year that Netflix had signed on for a five-episode sketch comedy program called W/ Bob and David, a reprise of the critically acclaimed 1990s series Mr. Show with Bob and David (with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross). Maybe some of the irreverent, anti-corporate satire that marked the old HBO program would emerge to meet the challenges of this decade?

A more detailed review of Mr. Show with Bob and David is beyond the scope of this writing, but this reviewer places that program among the healthier developments in popular culture in the 1990s. A reader so inclined should watch it, if only in clips available on YouTube. The sketches lampooning the right-wing attack on federal arts funding, the phoniness of “gangster rap” music—mimicked with an East Coast versus West Coast ventriloquism rivalry—and even the pseudo-biographical film Amadeus will make lasting impressions.

Sadly, there is almost nothing humorous or healthy in W/ Bob and David. The program feels slapped together, lacking the nuanced dialogue and genuine creativity of its predecessor. Some sketches are recycled from the original program, without improvement.

This alone would be disappointing to a Mr. Show fan, but W/ Bob and Davidalso bears the signs of a movement to the right on the part of the comedians. One episode begins with a faux prohibition on images of the Prophet Mohammed, with imams controlling Hollywood. This display—more in line with propaganda à la Geert Wilders—is painful to watch.

In the same vein, one sketch follows a would-be police misconduct investigator. The big joke is that the police are extremely polite, leaving him dumbfounded. Aside from the “Blue Lives Matter” fanatics, who comprises the audience for this insensitive claptrap?

A retrograde drift also plagues comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None, where the main character, Dev, is a 30-year-old actor making his way in New York City.

Ansari earned fame on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, playing an insecure young government employee who aspires to hip hop mogul glamour and excess. This reviewer always found his stand-up comedy more impressive. However, even in his best routines, Ansari’s criticisms of certain hedonistic lifestyles never goes very deep.

Master of None

Master of None exists almost entirely on the surface, depicting the unremarkable, often clichéd ins and outs of middle class life. Episodes concern quests for the ultimate burrito in New York, breakups, and relationships with friends and parents.

If the show has anything that resembles a saving grace, it is the boldness with which Ansari portrays the self-centered and privileged character of identity politics. This plays out in an episode where a producer makes a double entendre to Dev about curry—an Indian dish and a verb. Dev later feels he is offered a role by the producer as something of an apology. He explains to rapper Busta Rhymes: “I don’t think you should play the race card; charge it to the race card.”

“Everybody’s depressed … it’s called being an adult”

In Lady Dynamite, Netflix has created something more meaningful. Comedian Maria Bamford stars as herself, struggling to maintain a career in Hollywood without destroying her fragile mental health.

Lady Dynamite

The show treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy. In the face of the protagonist’s panic attacks, depressive bouts and fits of bipolar mania, one can laugh at the circumstances and still feel deeply for her even when she is screaming into a sponge. The illness is funny, but it is frightening. The craftsmanship here exceeds expectations.

Maria Bamford successfully mocks the superficiality and excesses of upper-middle class life. In one scene, she humors her best friend who is eager to show off her new luxury condominium. Maria tries to be enthusiastic for her friend’s new purchase, even though she has to use a virtual reality headset to tour the place, which is physically located inside a hot-shot realtor’s office. The illusion makes Maria ill. What a healthy metaphor!

Other notable scenes feature Maria’s cutthroat, foul-mouthed agent and her many mental health professionals (she has a psychologist, a life coach, and even a “loaf” coach to keep from being overwhelmed by all her treatments). The various professional helpers, medicines, self-help groups, etc., are not much aid in a cold, calculating world. The slogan on one of Maria’s tee shirts, “Wake up, be amazing, repeat,” has a welcome irony to it.

The most satisfying and daring scene finds Maria concerned about her ability to interact with African American fellow cast members. She attends a 12-step program for this called PURE, or People United for Racial Equality. Instead of introducing themselves as alcoholics or gamblers, PURE members simply say “I’m so and so, and I’m white.”

Other members nod when Maria confesses to having few minority friends, but desiring to be “more cognizant of racism and white privilege.” When Maria says she does not understand why she is racist simply for being white, the group leader explains, “We believe that interfering or even trying to relate is an implicit insult to people whose struggles we couldn’t possibly understand.”

PURE uses the slogan, “If you’re white, keep it light,” to remind whites not to burden minority people with more suffering by asking them questions about race. Instead, talk about the weather, sports and so forth.

Lady Dynamite has limitations. Bamford’s protest outlook pervades some scenes. Thus, a dull instrument is raised against big corporations, consumerism and so on. One wonders what powerful comedy would result from turning her craft against the union bureaucracy or the left fraternity around the Democratic Party. We can hope that if she does not, others will.


Captain Fantastic: An anti-establishment superhero?

By Joanne Laurier
30 July 2016

Written and directed by Matt Ross

Writer-director Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is a semi-anarchistic tale about a family’s “off-the-grid” existence in the Pacific Northwest.

Ben (Viggo Mortensen), father of six children aged between eight and 18, more or less, is bent on raising his family away from mainstream society and all its toxicity. In pristine and mountainous woods, the family undergoes rigorous physical exercise by day and vigorous intellectual training by night. They grow their own vegetables, respectfully kill their sources of protein and sleep in a communal teepee.

Captain Fantastic

The brood’s father, a former professor, and his wife Leslie (Trin Miller), a former lawyer, believe they are recreating Plato’s Republic and that their children are destined to be philosopher-kings and -queens. They shun Christmas but mark the anniversary of Noam Chomsky’s birth, celebrating, in their view, a great humanitarian.

The eldest son, Bodevan (George MacKay), chastises his father for using the term “Trotskyite”—a Stalinist-type insult—not “Trotskyist.” The family’s usual call-and-response is: “Power to the people … Stick it to the man.” “Fascist capitalist” is an epithet freely bandied about.

But the family’s seclusion is interrupted when Leslie, who suffers from acute mental illness, must reenter civilization for treatment. Concerning this traumatic event, Ben and his children have the following, fairly typical exchange:

Kielyr (Samantha Isler) “But you said hospitals are only a great place to go if you’re a healthy person and you want to die.”

Zaja (Shree Crooks): “You said Americans are undereducated and over-medicated.”

Kielyr: “And you said the AMA [American Medical Association] are avaricious whores only too willing to spread their fat legs for Big Pharma.”

Ben: “All those things are true. But mom does not have enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin to conduct electrical signals in her brain.”

When Leslie tragically kills herself, Ben and the kids decide to attend the funeral, in another state, traveling in their ramshackle bus named “Steve.” But Leslie’s wealthy parents, Jack and Abigail (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) have taken over and are organizing a traditional Christian service and interment.

In fact, Jack blames Ben for Leslie’s premature death, and orders his son-in-law to stay away. But, although “the powerful control the lives of the powerless,” the family decides to rescue Leslie’s body from the “Christians.” They intend to honor a mother who had become a Buddhist, despised organized religion and stated in her will she wanted to be cremated.

Interacting with the outside world involves a clash of values for Ben and his children, in the first place with Jack and Abigail, who at one point threaten to file for custody of their grandchildren. Ben and his budding geniuses also find themselves at odds with his sister, Harper (Kathryn Hahn), and brother-in-law, Dave (Steve Zahn). The more conventional couple’s computer game-addicted sons are witless compared to one of Ben’s youngest, who is able to explain the Bill of Rights, as well as the significance of Citizens United—the 2010 Supreme Court decision that abolished restrictions on big business political spending.

The superiority of the education Ben’s offspring have received is further underscored by their ability to speak several languages fluently. Bodevan has been accepted by a slew of Ivy League universities.

Captain Fantastic, whose title obviously spoofs comic book action movies, puts forward its own conception of a hero. Along the same lines, it may be that Ben initially believes he possesses the formula for creating a new race of “super-beings.” However, by the movie’s end it is an open question whether he will continue to espouse his radical views.

Mortensen comfortably and intelligently inhabits the role of Ben, and the actors who play his children are striking and appealing. Langella is convincing as a wealthy man not averse to siccing goons on his grieving son-in-law; Dowd renders an emotionally poignant performance.

Ross, who has been best known until now as a talented actor in series like Big Love (2006-11), seems to have certain good intentions and critical thoughts. Although the politics here is generally not good (indicated by the 1988 Jesse Jackson for president t-shirt that Ben wears at one point), some of the impulses may be. The director is clearly hostile to certain aspects of official American life, including a terribly deficient education system and a generally miserable cultural level.

In an interview, Ross elaborated on his hostility toward the theocratic element in present-day American politics, noting that we “live in a country where no one can be elected president of the United States without talking about their deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, and yet we are supposed to have a separation of church and state.”

Captain Fantastic

Unfortunately, Captain Fantastic suffers from serious flaws, associated in part with the character and outlook of the middle class radicalism promoted by the film. In this day and age, the notion that running off to the woods embodies “Power to the people” and “Sticking it to the man” seems extraordinarily threadbare. One would have thought that a little ideological water had flowed under the bridge since 1967 or so.

It is simply wrongheaded to identify living in complete isolation with opposition to the status quo, as though withdrawing has ever generated change. As Ross himself observes in an interview, this sort of individualism and semi-anarchism has as much—or more—of a right-wing pedigree (libertarianism, survivalism) as it does a left-wing one, Ben’s admiration for a “left” anti-establishment figure like Chomsky notwithstanding.

Moreover, outside of Ben and his children, the rest of humanity—in their eyes—are either overweight, brain-dead or dictatorial. In general, the family’s sympathies seem reserved not primarily for suffering humanity but for themselves.

A chief difficulty is that figures like Ross are sincerely dissatisfied with the existing state of things, but cut off from any sense of how it might be altered. Not seeing any objective source for change, the writer-director creates a largely fantastic or artificial one. Ironically, his American individualist outlook is closer to that of the comic book moviemakers than he would like to think.

Like other Hollywood liberals and radicals, Ross is far removed at this point from wider layers of the American population, which seethe with anger and discontent. This restive mass of people is the genuine agent of change. But the director’s antennae are not pointed in that direction.

Unable or unwilling to base himself on real life, Ross is obliged to flesh out and dramatize stale conceptions about some latter-day hippie alternative to inhuman capitalism. And along the way, he tends to blame the population for its troubles. Nevertheless, Captain Fantastic contains a dose of healthy disgust, and that is something, despite the rather childish prescriptions.


Captain America: Civil War—A waste of resources, technology and human skill

By David Walsh
23 May 2016

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Captain America: Civil War is the latest Hollywood superhero film. It is the 13th film from the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” alone. (There are more on the way.) The new Captain America is now the most commercially successful film of 2016, with its global box office revenue having reached $1 billion this past weekend. It cost approximately $250 million to make.

Captain America: Civil War

The story of Captain America: Civil War involves a dispute within the group of “enhanced” creatures known as the Avengers over whether they should accept United Nations supervision of their efforts to combat threats represented by various “supervillains.” Governments worldwide have become concerned about civilian casualties, “collateral damage,” resulting from the Avengers’ destructive activities.

Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads the faction that opposes signing an agreement accepting UN regulation of the superheroes’ conduct. Ironman / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) heads up those in favor. A terrorist attack that is falsely attributed to Rogers’ friend Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the victim of insidious brainwashing years ago in Siberia, becomes the source of further conflicts among the Avengers, hence the “Civil War” in the film’s title. It turns out that someone is deliberately stoking the bitter discord in the group, hoping to fracture it permanently, because of his own personal grievances.

Joe and Anthony Russo directed Captain America: Civil War. The action sequences, and there are many of them, are often difficult to follow. The relationships are simplistic and clichéd. There are a few amusing lines in the nearly two and a half hour film. There is also the nearly inevitable, vaguely anti-Russian angle. Overall, it is impossible to care about anyone and anything in this work.

There are no coherent or significant themes here. Civil War seems to be suggesting that the thirst for vengeance is unquenchable and self-defeating. Every forceful action––even in a good cause––produces new, perhaps accidental victims, and those who attempt to avenge the latter inevitably perpetuate the cycle of violence. If this is meant to apply to the current geopolitical situation, to the wars in the Middle East and the terrorist attacks in Europe, it is less than meaningless, since it conceals the reality of relentless US and European military violence and neo-colonial aggression.

With its fleeting, essentially inconsequential references to the deaths of innocent civilians, the Russo brothers’ effort deserves inclusion among those films and novels that accept––sometimes in allegorical form––the framework of the “war on terror,” but suggest that “good people” (or whatever form of life they may be) can “step over the line” and that there may be a price to pay for the overzealous pursuit of “evildoers.”

If Captain America is taken to be the leader of some sort of pumped up US Special Forces unit, i.e., death squad, then the film is more sinister. Rogers’ refusal to accept any supervision is apparently intended to demonstrate the depth of his independence and quasi-“libertarian” commitment, even his anti-authoritarianism. But he and his team could be looked at differently, as murderous paramilitary vigilantes, if one chose to take any of this seriously …

In any event, the issues and dilemmas facing the characters, the gestures in the direction of “psychology,” are mere scaffolding for a large-scale money-making operation. What passes for film criticism is so prostituted in the US at this point that hardly anyone can state the obvious: that this is a bloated, pointless and dull film, which simply kills (truly murders!) a few hours in the viewer’s life.

Captain America: Civil War

Laughably, Justin Chang in Variety, the trade publication, calls it the “most mature and substantive picture to have yet emerged from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” More cynically, the Hollywood Reporter comments, “Call it ‘civil war’ or call it brand extension; call it a ‘cinematic universe’ or a corporate behemoth––the latest Marvel extravaganza furthers the studio’s cross-pollination of action franchises in a way that’s sure to satisfy devotees. Posing serious questions about violence and vigilantism while reveling in both,Captain America: Civil War is overlong but surprisingly light on its feet.”

These comments are simply a form of product endorsement. The American media, instinctively subservient to corporate interests, treats the studios and their blockbusters as invaluable national assets that are “too big to fail.” It is a truly dreadful situation.

Last July, in a comment on Terminator Genisys (2015), we pointed to the phenomenon of so-called independent filmmakers moving “into the ‘blockbuster’ vortex” as something worth “taking note of.”

The Russo brothers were cited in that article as an example. They wrote and directed their first film, Pieces (1997), while still graduate students at Case Western Reserve University, in their hometown of Cleveland. Joe Russo told an interviewer that this initial movie “was a French New Wave-influenced, non-linear art piece that had no absolutely no appeal to anybody in commercial filmmaking.” He told another interviewer, “It was a genre-bending movie. It was about a heist, but completely absurdist in the style of a [Jean-Luc] Godard film,” and “[W]e grew up on foreign films, art house films. [François] Truffaut was a huge influence on us.”

Thanks to Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, who had a production company together, the Russo brothers made their first feature film, Welcome to Collinwood (2002). It was set in a rundown section of Cleveland and based on Italian filmmaker Mario Monicelli’s memorable comedy, Big Deal on Madonna Street ( I soliti ignoti, 1958), about a group of small-time thieves who horribly botch a burglary. William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Isaiah Washington, Luis Guzmán, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Esposito and Clooney himself featured in the amusing work.

Captain America: Civil War

(Oddly enough, another “independent” filmmaker who has found himself directing bombastic fare, Alan Taylor [Thor: The Dark World, 2013, andTerminator Genisys], also began his career by directing a movie, Palookaville(1995), loosely inspired by Monicelli’s film.)

The Russo brothers apparently played a role as well in developing the comic television series, Arrested Development (2003-06), eventually directing 15 episodes between them. After working on a number of other series, the Russos graduated to directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and now this. They are slated to direct two more Avengers’ films, Infinity War,Part I and II, to be released in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

All one can think about is the terrible waste of resources, technology and human skill represented by a film like Captain America: Civil War. The performers, for instance, include many talented individuals, among them Evans, Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Daniel Brühl, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Slattery, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard and others. What are these people doing in this film? Is there any major film actor at present who would say “No” to this sort of project?

In any event, the ultimate source of the problem lies in “bad times,” not bad people. What exists at present will be replaced by something very different, its opposite in many respects.

Class Divide: A close-up look at gentrification, inequality in New York City

By Fred Mazelis
29 April 2016

Class Divide is indeed appropriately named. This documentary film by Marc Levin provides a concrete examination, largely through the eyes of the young generation, of life in one of the most unequal cities in the world.

This is the third in a series of films made by Levin on significant social issues. Earlier ones examined the disappearance of New York City’s garment industry, and the lives of families in the city’s suburbs who lost good jobs in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.

Class Divide

In Class Divide the setting is the West Chelsea neighborhood in the lower midtown area of Manhattan. The neighborhood had already seen an influx of the upper middle class over the past quarter-century. Since 2009, however, with the opening in successive stages of the High Line, the aerial greenway and park built on old New York Central railroad tracks, hyper-gentrification has arrived.

One luxury high-rise apartment building after another has been or is being built along the High Line, which has become one of New York’s top ten tourist attractions. The new residents, paying millions of dollars for an apartment, are taking advantage of the views and the prestige of the address, as well as the proximity to the trendy art gallery scene west of Tenth Avenue and the new Whitney Museum and night life only a few blocks south. For some of the new owners, the apartments are merely an investment, and little time is spent living there.

Catering in large part to the wealthy newcomers, Avenues, a private for-profit school from kindergarten to the 12th grade, opened its doors several years ago. Tuition is currently more than $45,000 annually. All of the students, even in the lower grades, study either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. Avenues enrolls more than 1,200 students, a relative handful of whom (45 students) receive full scholarships. Most of the students at Avenues come not merely from upper middle-class families, but from the top one-tenth or even one-hundredth of one percent on the income scale.

Directly across from Avenues, on the east side of Tenth Avenue, lies the Chelsea-Elliot Houses, a public housing project that is home to 2,500 people. Half of the development dates from 1947 and the other half from 1964. A typical example of New York’s public housing, Chelsea-Elliot is plagued by poor maintenance, a backlog of basic repairs and occasional loss of heat or hot water. Most of its households have annual incomes that are far less than the tuition demanded across the street.

The film holds our attention and works as a documentary largely because the bare statistics are translated into the experiences and the honest and unfiltered views of young people on both sides of the class divide. Interviews with youth from Chelsea-Elliot are interspersed with ones from students at Avenues, and we also hear from adults connected to the school, the High Line, the neighborhood, and the real estate boom that is remaking the area.

Joel, a 7-year-old from the projects, speaks about his hopes for the future, and his fears as well. His mother, Candida, comes from the Dominican Republic. His father, Fernando, is an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who leaves for work every day at 5 am. The family worries that he could be deported. Seven people live in two small rooms.

Juwan, Hyisheen and Brandon are teenagers. Juwan’s mother died when he was eight. Brandon works as a doorman while making plans for the future. Hyisheen does well in school and studies social work in college.

Rosa De Santiago is perhaps the liveliest presence in the film. About 9 years old, she declares that she admires Beyoncé, and has decided, after wondering, “how did pieces of rock get on the Earth?” that she wants to become a professor of geology when she grows up. “I hate money,” Rosa passionately declares. “People fight over money. My mom pawned her jewelry to pay the rent.”

On the other side of the street we meet Yasemin, a high school student at Avenues who lives on the Upper West Side and who worries about inequality. Nick, whose father is a currency trader, hopes to become an architect and looks forward to building for the rich. Luc lives in a building with a “poor door,” with the lower half providing apartments, with a separate entrance, for low-income families.

Also interviewed are Ricardo Scofidio, the lead architect of the hugely successful High Line; Chris Whittle, the “educational entrepreneur” who is one of the founders of Avenues and has been a prime mover in the attacks on public education through charter and private schools over the past two decades; Ken Jockers, from the Hudson Guild social services center in the Chelsea Houses; and Joe Restuccia, a local advocate of affordable housing, who tells us that 40 percent of the city’s low-income housing has disappeared in the last decade.

A real estate broker brags about the huge sums apartments are going for in the West Chelsea area. Showing apartments to prospective buyers, she mentions that the asking price for a penthouse is about $15 million. One buyer is shown a four-bedroom apartment for $10.35 million. When she asks the agent whether the playground outside is “safe,” the reply is, “I can’t guarantee safety.”

An 11-year-old from the projects tells the camera, “They use all our parks, but they don’t even like us.” Only late in the film do students from both sides of the street get the opportunity to meet one another. A group from the projects is taken on a tour of Avenues. We are informed that a single scholarship student from the Chelsea-Elliot Houses has been admitted to Avenues.

One of the most important and valuable insights from the film, in the words of the young people themselves, is that the dividing line between the overwhelmingly white student body at Avenues and the equally overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic population across the street is one of class, not race. As Hyisheen explains, “it’s not racism, it’s classism.” An adult comments, “It’s America, that’s the way it is…not race, but wealth.”

Filmmaker Levin has accurately described a state of anxiety among the young people, on both sides of Tenth Avenue. They are concerned about the class gulf that they navigate every day, and wonder about the future. In the case of one of the Avenues students, as the film recounts, this has tragic consequences.

At the end of the movie we are given an update on the current plans of some of those who have been interviewed. Rosa tried to get admitted to Avenues but did not succeed. Juwan is pursuing his hope of a career in stand-up comedy, and Hyisheen has graduated from college.

Class Divide is clearly a cry of liberal concern. According to the Huffington Post, “Levin did not want to make a political film but rather to put light on ‘how these forces impact real people and how that is sometimes missed.’”

Class Divide

The film succeeds in showing this impact and has many worthwhile and revealing moments, but it also reflects a definite political outlook, one that remains very much within the framework of the social and political status quo.

The term “classism” used by Hyisheen is significant. It is a word that only came into more common usage in recent decades, in line with identity politics. It signifies—analogously to racism as well as to such terms as “ageism”—discrimination against the poor. It strongly implies that nothing can be done about poverty, that it is just another “identity,” along with race, age and gender. Those who object to “classism” usually mean that the poor should be treated with fairness, not that poverty can or should be eliminated. As we hear on several occasions in the film: “This is America,” a phrase that says nothing will ever change.

In another revealing moment, Rosa’s older brother Danny declares himself a conservative, an entrepreneur and a Republican, because the Republicans stand for “free enterprise” while the Democrats “are for the lazy, poor people.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course the poor are not lazy, nor do the Democrats stand for the poor. The Democrats, while always a big-business party, have become in recent decades even more trusted representatives of the financial aristocracy. Danny is merely repeating phrases that come from the Republican right wing but that also reflect the increasingly threadbare claims by Democratic politicians to defend the “less fortunate.”

It is perhaps significant that the film includes this snippet, suggesting that young workers see their salvation in right-wing demagogy. Danny’s comments leave the impression that the choice (in 2016 and beyond) is between the two parties of the ruling class. We never hear from the workers and youth in the Chelsea-Elliot Houses who have no use for either of their parties of the corporate and financial establishment. Their bitter hatred of the system would have introduced a dissonant note in relation to the movie’s overall theme. Although we don’t hear from them in Class Divide, they will be heard soon enough.

We’re not the “good guys”: American drone warfare is terrorizing the Middle East

The Obama administration clings to Hollywood fantasy about the war on terror, even as its whistleblowers call foul

We're not the "good guys": American drone warfare is terrorizing the Middle East
Ethan Hawke in “Good Kill”
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage.  In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears inNational Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake.  In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

“I Was Under the Impression That America Was Saving the World”

“When we are in our darkest places and we have a lot to worry about and we feel guilty about our past actions, it’s really tough to describe what that feeling is like,” says Daniel, a whistleblower who took part in drone operations and whose last name is not revealed in National Bird. Speaking of the suicidal feelings that sometimes plagued him while he was involved in killing halfway across the planet, he adds, “Having the image in your head of taking your own life is not a good feeling.”

National Bird is not the first muckraking documentary on Washington’s drone wars. Robert Greenwald’s Unmanned, Tonje Schei’s Drone, and Madiha Tahrir’s Wounds of Waziristan have already shone much-needed light on how drone warfare really works. But as Kennebeck told me, when she set out to make a film about the wages of the newest form of war known to humanity, she wanted those doing the targeting, as well as those they were targeting, to speak for themselves.  She wanted them to reveal the psychological impact of sending robot assassins, often operated by “pilots” halfway around the world, into the Greater Middle East to fight Washington’s war on terror. In her film, there’s no narrator, nor experts in suits working for think tanks in Washington, nor retired generals debating the value of drone strikes when it comes to defeating terrorism.

Instead, what you see is far less commonplace: low-level recruits in President Obama’s never-ending drone wars, those Air Force personnel who remotely direct the robotic vehicles to their targets, analyze the information they send back, and relay that information to the pilots who unleash Hellfire missiles that will devastate distant villages. If recent history is any guide, these drones do not just kill terrorists; in their target areas, they also create anxiety, upset, and a desire for revenge in a larger population and so have proven a powerful weapon in spreading terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

These previously faceless but distinctly non-robotic Air Force recruits are the cannon fodder of America’s drone wars.  You meet two twenty-somethings: Daniel, a self-described down-and-out homeless kid, every male member of whose family has been in jail on petty charges of one kind or another, and Heather, a small town high school graduate trying to escape rural Pennsylvania. You also meet Lisa, a former Army nurse from California, who initially saw the military as a path to a more meaningful life.

The three of them worked on Air Force bases scattered around the country from California to Virginia. The equipment they handled hovered above war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Pakistan and Yemen (where the U.S. Air Force was supporting assassination missions on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency).

“That is so cool, unmanned aircraft. That’s really bad-ass.” So Heather thought when she first saw recruitment posters for the drone program. “I was under the impression,” she told Kennebeck, “that America was saving the world, like that we were Big Brother and we were helping everyone out.”

Initially, Lisa felt similarly: “When I first got into the military, I mean I was thinking it was a win-win. It was a force for good in the world. I thought I was going to be on the right side of history.”

And that was hardly surprising.  After all, you’re talking about the “perfect weapon,” the totally high-tech, “precise” and “surgical,” no-(American)-casualties, sci-fi version of war that Washington has been promoting for years as its answer to al-Qaeda and other terror outfits.  President Obama who has personally overseen the drone campaigns — with a “kill list” and “terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House — vividly described his version of such a modern war in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University:

“This is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. We were attacked on 9/11. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces… America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”

That distinctly Hollywood vision of America’s drone wars (with a Terminator edge) was the one that had filtered down to the level of Kennebeck’s three drone-team interviewees when they signed on.  It looked to them then like a war worth fighting and a life worth leading.  Today, as they speak out, their version of such warfare looks nothing like what either Hollywood or Washington might imagine.

“Excuse Me, Sir, Can I Have Your Driver’s License?”

National Bird does more than look at the devastation caused by drones in far away lands and the overwhelming anxiety it produces among those who live under the distant buzzing and constant threat of those robotic aircraft on an almost daily basis. Kennebeck also turns her camera on the men and women who helped make the strikes possible, trying to assess what the impact of their war has been on them. Their raw and unfiltered responses should deeply trouble us all.

Kennebeck’s interviewees are among at least a dozen whistleblowers who have stepped forward, or are preparing to do so, in order to denounce Washington’s drone wars as morally unjustified, as in fact nightmares both for those who fight them and those living in the lands that are on the receiving end. The realities of the day-in, day-out war they fought for years were, as they tell it, deeply destructive and filled with collateral damage of every sort.  Worse yet, drone operators turn out to have little real idea about, and almost no confirmation of, whom exactly they’ve blown away.

“It’s so primitive, raw, stripped-down death. This is real. It’s not a joke,” says Heather, an imagery analyst whose job was to look at the streaming video coming in from drones over war zones and interpret the grainy images for senior commanders in thekill chain. “You see someone die because you said it was okay to kill them. I was always shaking. Sometimes I would just go to the bathroom and just sit on the toilet. I mean just sit there in my uniform and just cry.”

Advocates of drone war believe, as do many of its critics, that it minimizes casualties. These Air Force veterans have, however, stepped forward to tell us that such claims simply aren’t true. In a study of what can be known about drone killings, the human rights group Reprieve has confirmed this reality vividly, finding that, in Pakistan, in attempts to take out 41 men, American drones actually killed an estimated 1,147 people (while not all of the 41 targeted figures even died). In other words, this hasn’t proved to be a war on terror, but a war of terror, a reality the drone whistleblowers confirm.

Heather is blunt in her criticism. “Hearing politicians speak about drones being precision weapons [makes it seem like they’re] able to make surgical strikes. To me it’s completely ridiculous, completely ludicrous to make these statements.”

The three whistleblowers point, for instance, to the complete absence of any post-strike verification of who exactly has died. “There’s a bomb. They drop it. It explodes,” Lisa says. “Then what? Does somebody go down and ask for somebody’s driver’s license? Excuse me, sir, can I have your driver’s license, see who you are? Does that happen? I mean, how do we know? How is it possible to know who ends up living or dying?”

After three years as an imagery analyst, after regularly watching unknown people die thousands of miles away on a grainy screen, Heather was diagnosed as suicidal. She estimates — and the experiences of other drone whistleblowers back her up — that alcoholics accounted for a significant percentage of her unit, and that many of her co-workers had similarly suicidal thoughts. Two actually did kill themselves.

As Heather’s grandfather points out, “She had trouble getting the treatment she needed. She had trouble finding a doctor because they didn’t have the right security clearance [and] she could be in violation of the law and could even go to prison for even talking to the wrong therapist about what was bothering her.”

In desperation Heather turned to her mother. “She’d call me up and she’d cry and she’d be upset, but then she couldn’t talk about it,” her mother says. “When you hear your daughter talking to you on the phone, you can that tell she is in trouble just by the emotion and inflection and the stress that you can hear in her voice. When you ask her, did you talk to anyone else about it? She’d say no, we’re not allowed to talk to anybody. I have a feeling that if someone wasn’t there for her, she wouldn’t be here right now.”

Like Heather, Daniel has so far survived his own drone-war-induced mental health issues, but in his post-drone life he’s run into a formidable enemy: the U.S. government. On August 8, 2014, he estimates that as many as 50 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided his house, seizing documents and his electronics.

“The government suspects that he is a source of information about the [drone] program that the government doesn’t want out there,” says Jesselyn Radack, his lawyer and herself a former Department of Justice whistleblower. “To me, that’s simply an attempt to silence whistleblowers, and it doesn’t surprise me that that happens to the very few people who have been brave enough to speak out against the drone program.”

If that was the intention, however, the raid — and the threat it carries for other whistleblowers — seems not to have had the desired effect. Instead, the number of what might be thought of as defectors from the drone program only seems to be growing. The first to come out was Brandon Bryant, a former camera operator in October 2013. He was followed by Cian Westmoreland, a former radio technician, in November 2014. Last November, Michael Haas and Stephen Lewis, two imagery analysts, joined Westmoreland and Bryant by speaking out at the launch of Tonje Schei’s filmDrone. All four of them also published an open letter to President Obama warning him that the drone war was escalating terrorism, not containing it.

And just last month, Chris Aaron, a former counterterrorism analyst for the CIA’s drone program, spoke out on a panel at the University of Nevada Law School. In the relatively near future, Radack recently told Rolling Stone, four more individuals involved in America’s drone wars are planning to offer their insights into how the program works.

Like Heather and Daniel, many of the former drone operators who have gone public are struggling with mental health problems. Some of them are also dealing with substance abuse issues that began as a way to counteract or dull the horrors of the war they were waging and witnessing. “We used to call alcohol drone fuel because it kept the program going. Everyone drank. There was a lot of coke, speed, and that sort of thing,” imagery analyst Haas toldRolling Stone. “If the higher ups knew, then they didn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure they must have known. It was everywhere.”

“Imagine If This Was Happening to Us”

In recent months, something has changed for the whistleblowers. There is a new sense of camaraderie among them, as well as with the lawyers defending them and a growing group of activist supporters. Most unexpectedly, they are hearing from the families of victims of drone strikes, thanks to the work of groups like Reprieve in Great Britain.

In mid-April, for instance, when Cian Westmoreland was visiting London, he met with Malik Jalal, a Pakistani tribal leader who claims that he has been targeted by U.S. drones on multiple occasions. Clive Lewis, a member of Parliament and military veteran, released a photo on Facebook of the meeting. “It’s possible that one of the two men I’m [standing] between in this picture, Cian Westmoreland, was trying to kill the man on my right, Malik Jalal — at some stage in the past seven years,” Lewiswrote. “Their story is both amazing and terrifying. At once it shows the growing menace and destructive capability of unchecked political and military power juxtaposed with the power of the human spirit and human solidarity.”

As that sense of solidarity strengthens and as the distance between the former hunters and the hunted begins to narrow, the whistleblowers are beginning to confront some distinctly uncomfortable questions. “We often hear that drones can see everything by day and by night,” a different drone victim of the February 2010strike in Uruzgan told filmmaker Kennebeck. “You can see the difference between a needle and an ant but not people? We were sitting in the pickup truck, some even on the bed. Did you not see that there were travelers, women and children?”

When the president and his key officials look at the drone program, they undoubtedly don’t “see” women and children. Instead, they are caught up in a Hollywood-style vision of imminent danger from terrorists and of the kind of salvation that a missile launched from thousands of miles away provides. It is undoubtedly thanks to just this thought process, already deeply embedded in the American way of war, that not a single candidate for president in 2016 has rejected the drone program.

That is exactly what the whistleblowers feel needs to change. “I just want people to know that not everybody is a freaking terrorist and we need to just get out of that mindset. And we just need to see these people as people — families, communities, brothers, mothers, and sisters, because that’s who they are,” says Lisa. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of the door and it was a sunny day and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something would fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”

Pratap Chatterjee is the author of “Halliburton’s Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War”. He is the managing editor of CorpWatch.