Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
Maybe I write my review blogs more easily because movies hold still, while the news cycle continues relentlessly. For the past three years, the daily barrage of avoidable atrocities perpetrated by the grifter-in-chief has been both infuriating and numbing. Even as I wrap my compost in past days’ newspapers, I notice an article I missed: “Trump policy change ends in bird deaths.”
Across the country, birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination. In the last fifty years, the bird population in the United States and Canada has declined by 29%, or 3 billion. The endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Noah Greenwald, says that the administration’s disregard for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other protections, including not reporting bird deaths as required, “is not only bad for birds, but also cruel.” Cruel is a word that has been used over and over in print about this president and his henchmen, and I wonder if there is a way to make that overused word even stronger (cruelissimo?)
Which brings me back to Italy, the Vatican, and the film The Two Popes, directed by Fernanco Meirelles, who also made City of God, a powerful depiction of life and crime in the favelas of Rio de Janiero. The popes of the title are Benedict XVI (the German, Joseph Ratzinger, played by Anthony Hopkins) and Francis (Argentina-born Jorge Bergoglio, played by Jonathan Pryce). Interestingly, while the name Benedict was taken 16 times, the name of the humble, animal-loving saint, Francis of Assisi, was never chosen by a pope before 2013.
The story is an adaptation of screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s stage play about the interaction of these two prelates over several days in 2012 when Cardinal Bergoglio comes to Rome seeking permission to resign. Their fascinating and revealing conversations come from opposite ends of the Catholic church’s conservative-liberal spectrum, and could be a model for how Republicans and Democrats might positively engage today.
We see them progressing from an awkward late night face-off after they have each dined alone (alternating close-ups on both men as they talk), to an amiable lunch of pizza and orange soda in a back room of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Benedict says grace a bit too long for his hungry companion who rushes an “amen,” but then the Hopkins character bites into his slice with the gusto of a teenage boy.
Director Meirelles expertly weaves in the backstory of future Pope Francis; the film is, in effect, a biopic of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. We watch the young man come to the realization of his priestly vocation, giving up his girlfriend but not the tango he danced with her. We witness him grapple with his role during Argentina’s “Dirty War” and struggle to protect his Jesuits from the military dictatorship. These flashbacks are both beautiful and horrifying, and help the viewer understand history’s nuances and compromises.
I won’t say more about The Two Popes except that the performances by Hopkins and Pryce are absolutely superb.
I was also pleased to learn that the current Pope has both a profound message about social justice and expertise in my favorite dance, Argentine tango.
With a birthday in July and a love of tropical beaches, I am feeling the loss of solar-powered personal energy today, although I know we here in wine country need the rain. It’s just that in higher elevations this water from heaven should be snow, arctic seas that should be frozen over are not, and Alaska has sustained its warmest weather ever in 2019. In Australia, their summer bushfires have pushed the air quality in Sydney to 12 times above “hazardous.” The area burned in “Oz” is three times what was lost in Brazil’s Amazon fires this year—record-breaking itself, in quantity, devastation and toxic pollution.
I have been moved by the many thousands of activists from all over the world, especially the young people of Extinction Rebellion and indigenous leaders, who have converged outside and around the U.N. Climate Summit in Madrid for the past two weeks. Time Magazine has named 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden its “Person of the Year,” while Brazil’s president calls her a “brat” and the U.S. president tells her to “go to the movies” and dismisses her urging “a course in anger management.”
I’m quoting below Greta’s insightful plenary address at the climate conference, where she speaks very frankly. (It is a longer than usual post) I always find it wonderful to hear her voice, and hope you will link to Democracy Now and watch/listen. In fact, I recommend this entire week of on-site programming by the Democracy Now team headed by Amy Goodman. Their climate issues coverage is second to none, on this occasion and always.
GRETA THUNBERG: “A year and a half ago, I didn’t speak to anyone unless I really had to. But then I found a reason to speak. Since then, I have given many speeches and learned that when you talk in public, you should start with something personal or emotional to get everyone’s attention, say things like, “Our house is on fire,” “I want you to panic,” or “How dare you!” But today I will not do that, because then those phrases are all that people focus on. They don’t remember the facts, the very reason why I say those things in the first place. We no longer have time to leave out the science.
“For about a year, I have been constantly talking about our rapidly declining carbon budgets, over and over again. But since that is still being ignored, I will just keep repeating it. In chapter two, on page 108 in the SR 1.5 IPCC report that came out last year, it says that if we are to have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we had, on January 1st, 2018, 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit in that budget.
“And, of course, that number is much lower today as we emit about 42 gigatons of CO2 every year, including land use. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining budget will be gone within about eight years. These numbers aren’t anyone’s opinions or political views. This is the current best available science. Though many scientists suggest these figures are too moderate, these are the ones that have been accepted through the IPCC.
“And please note that these figures are global, and therefore do not say anything about the aspect of equity, which is absolutely essential to make the Paris Agreement work on a global scale. That means that richer countries need to do their fair share and get down to real zero emissions much faster and then help poorer countries do the same, so people in less fortunate parts of the world can raise their living standards. . . .
“And why is it so important to stay below 1.5 degrees? Because even at 1 degree, people are dying from the climate crisis. Because that is what the united science calls for to avoid destabilizing the climate, so that we have the best possible chance to avoid setting off irreversible chain reactions, such as melting glaciers, polar ice and thawing Arctic permafrost. Every fraction of a degree matters.
“This is my message. This is what I want you to focus on. So please tell me: How do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this, without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know.
S”ince the Paris Agreement, global banks have invested 1.9 trillion U.S. dollars in fossil fuels. One hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. The G20 countries account for almost 80% of total emissions. The richest 10% of the world’s population produce half of our CO2 emissions, while the poorest 50% account for just one-tenth. We indeed have some work to do, but some more than others.
“Recently, a handful of rich countries pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by so-and-so many percent by this or that date, or to become climate-neutral or net zero in so-and-so many years. This may sound impressive at first glance, but even though the intentions may be good, this is not leadership. This is not leading. This is misleading, because most of these pledges do not include aviation, shipping, and imported and exported goods and consumption. They do, however, include the possibility of countries to offset their emissions elsewhere. . .
“Without seeing the full picture, we will not solve this crisis. Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about. But instead, it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition. Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double counting emissions reductions and moving their emissions overseas and walking back on their promises to increase ambition or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage. This has to stop. What we need is real, drastic emission cuts at the source.
“But, of course, just reducing emissions is not enough. Our greenhouse gas emissions have to stop. To stay below 1.5 degrees, we need to keep the carbon in the ground. Only setting up distant dates and saying things which give the impression of that action is underway will most likely do more harm than good, because the changes required are still nowhere in sight. The politics needed does not exist today, despite what you might hear from world leaders.
“And I still believe that the biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.
“I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel around the world. And my experience is that the lack of awareness is the same everywhere, not the least amongst those elected to lead us. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever. Our leaders are not behaving as if we were in an emergency. In an emergency, you change your behavior. If there is a child standing in the middle of the road and cars are coming at full speed, you don’t look away because it’s too uncomfortable. You immediately run out and rescue that child. And without that sense of urgency, how can we, the people, understand that we are facing a real crisis? And if the people are not fully aware of what is going on, then they will not put pressure on the people in power to act. And without pressure from the people, our leaders can get away with basically not doing anything — which is where we are now.
“In just three weeks we will enter a new decade, a decade that will define our future. Right now we are desperate for any sign of hope. Well, I’m telling you there is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people, the people who have been unaware but are now starting to wake up. And once we become aware, we change. People can change. People are ready for change. And that is the hope, because we have democracy. And democracy is happening all the time, not just on Election Day, but every second and every hour. It is public opinion that runs the free world. In fact, every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now. We, the people.”
This is a review of Tel Aviv on Fire, directed by Sameh Zoabi; it came out in limited release in the summer of 2019, although I just saw it on NetFlix DVD. Sly and well-written, the film is part satire, part social commentary. I found it very funny, very human, and the interaction between the two leading men—Assi, the Israeli checkpoint commander, and Salem, the charming, but hapless Palestinian aspiring writer for a “daytime drama” produced in Ramallah—to be full of heart and humanity. The film’s title is also the title of the soap opera—a show beloved by both Arab and Jewish women who are important to Assi and Salem.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it high marks, and I agree with the reviews listed there, especially: “this comedy is an enjoyable respite from the bleakness typical of the conflict’s stories…a genial illustration of the belief that all of these people are more similar than they are different.”
My delight in this film, unfortunately, coincides with yesterday’s declaration by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. does NOT consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. Washington’s reversal of a 41-year-old policy is a gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently under indictment for corruption, who needs the political support from his buddy Trump (the same character, with his son-in-law Kushner, who has scuttled any pretense of being an honest broker in any “peace deal.”)
Of course, the United Nations and other world leaders protest that merely “declaring” what is or is not a violation of international law by Israel is not the prerogative of the United States (See comments by spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric during a press briefing on Tuesday in New York,).
My point is: artists like filmmaker Zaobi are to be praised for enlightening us through comedy. (The DVD extras include a terrific interview with him—if you can ignore the awful static-camera, wide angle of the segment). Just like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and other late night show hosts prove, there are many ways to influence the hearts and minds of audiences, and Tel Aviv on Fire is one of them.
After listening to the first several hours of the impeachment inquiry public hearings, I continue to believe the Democrats’ choice to focus on the quid pro quo bribery of Ukraine is too limited and too easily attacked by current Republican congresspeople. Even arguments that what Trump wanted never came to pass does not mean it was not wrong to attempt it. And it also sidesteps the use of back channel foreign policy and corruption in our own government (witness Paul Manafort sitting in jail right now for his machinations in Ukraine.)
There are so many OTHER high crimes and misdemeanors, I wonder how the supporters of President Trump could refute them all. I’ve taken the list below from https://impeachdonaldtrumpnow.org/case-for-impeachment/
“From the moment he took office Donald Trump’s refusal to divest from his business interests has placed him in direct violation of the US Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause and Domestic Emoluments Clause. Since then, his corruption and abuse of power have only increased.”
These articles of impeachment don’t include all the allegations of rape and sexual assault by this president, even when he admitted he had a right to “grab them by the pussy.” See this running list of Trump’s accusers.
Nor do these articles include his documented 13,400 false or misleading statements over 928 days.
I’m still listening to the testimony, and it takes a lot of stomach to handle the voice tone and lack of dignity of the Trump defenders compared to the dignity of the witnesses. If these hearings don’t succeed in removing or fatally damaging Trump’s 2020 campaign or to convince the American people that our democracy is in danger, I believe it will be because of Nancy Pelosi’s caution. I know there are reasons, but just like the catastrophe of climate change, huge problems need huge remedies.
In conclusion, I’ll commend KPFA radio (94.1 FM) for its commitment to broadcasting the hearings in their entirety on Pacifica Network stations throughout the county. I urge considering a donation to this listener-sponsored 70-year-old station.
I suppose it’s cowardly of me to say there is so much to critique about the insane behavior of the current occupant of the White House and his scores of enablers that I don’t have the bandwidth to write about any of it.
Just as I get my thoughts together about the detention of asylum seekers and separation of children, some never to see their families again (!), the Trump administration attacks legal immigrants seeking green cards. Just as I get my thoughts together on the further wrecking of the endangered species act, the idiot says windmill cause cancer. (Has anyone watched the clips from Trump’s recent rallies? It’s just not what he says but the incoherence of his speech that is astounding.)
Instead of draining the swamp, he has cause a “brain drain” across all the agencies of government while keeping in power (regretfully I call them evil and heartless) Stephen Miller and Mitch McConnell, and those newer to the scene like Ken Cuccinelli (who paraphrased Lady Liberty’s poem/plaque: “Bring me your tired, your poor…who can stand on their own two feet”) or the Repub congressperson who said we wouldn’t have a human population if not for the babies resulting from rape and incest. How can these people have been appointed/elected?
So I’m writing today simply to urge you to watch three segments from Democracy Now of August 19. The show reports on the work of “No More Deaths” and other compassionate activists who leave food and water for migrants in the Sonoran Desert.
I congratulate Amy Goodman for going on location in extreme heat with Scott Warren and his cohorts. The bodies and bones of thousands of travelers have been, and continue to be, found. Activist Geena Jackson leaves notes in Spanish along with the water drops and cans of pop-top beans. She says, “I write, ‘Ánimo!’ and ‘¡Mantenga la fuerza!’ and ‘¡Sí, se puede!’ and words of — I don’t know — words of strength.” I was also moved to tears hearing of their efforts to help families who try to track their relatives who have disappeared on the perilous journey.
White supremacist policies in America have never been worse in my lifetime. Enlightened journalism and brave work by volunteers, even at the risk of prosecution and imprisonment, need to be supported.
To distract from the glorification of gunshots, bombs and explosions that brought crowds to my South Park neighborhood (yes, I could view Sonoma County Fairgrounds 4th of July fireworks from my front porch), I watched the film Capernaum, which was on my list as a Golden Globe and Oscar nominee.
The Lebanese director Nadine Labaki made history for being the first female Arab director to win the Jury Prize at Cannes. The premiere screening of Capernaum during the film festival received a 15-minute standing ovation and when it was over I wanted to applaud as well. “Now that was art!” I said aloud.
The film featured first-time actor Zain al-Rafeea, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee (he looks much younger but his resourcefulness proves beyond his years) whose family was displaced from Syria in 2012. Labaki’s husband, Khaled Mouzanar, produced and composed the film. The haunting musical score, remarkably uncontrived feel, and brilliant performances by the entire cast had me mesmerized.
(Read this interview with the director to learn more about the making of this narrative and the current life situation of its wonderful young star.)
The director noted that her child actors could not memorize lines. She just asked them to be who they are. She explained, “Usually the actor is at the service of the text. In this case, we were at their service. We had to be observant. There were takes that lasted hours and hours.”
What touched me most was how the film managed to incorporate the situation of migrants and refugees common the world over, but made it very real and specific. The universal story applies to children on the Mexican border, in the favelas in Brazil, in the entire middle east. “We’re talking about kids not receiving their most fundamental rights,” Labaki said.
When an interviewer noted, “Some critics may see the film as ‘poverty porn’,” the director replied, “Get real. Get out of your cafe where you’re writing your critique and go out into the world and see what’s happening around you. What you see in the film is nothing compared to reality. Children are suffering unbearably. I didn’t put rape scenes in the film, I didn’t put real abuse in the film — because I couldn’t.”
For that much, I am grateful.
A corollary film review: the 2016 documentary Fire at Sea features a physician on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa who treats rescued African refugees after their overloaded boats land at this way station enroute to Europe. With beautiful cinematography and searing images, this film introduced me to the use of mylar blankets. The DVD extras interview with the compassionate doctor answers many of the objections of those who would refuse these refugees entrance.
I’m not a soccer fan and didn’t pay much attention to the defending World Cup championship (USA vs. France match will be televised an hour from this writing) until the occupant of the Oval Office criticized team co-captain Megan Rapinoe for saying almost in passing, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.”
Like other winning athletes who have taken a knee or otherwise protested the policies of the current administration (Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James), Rapinoe is not guilty of the disrespect she is being accused of. She and her teammates, she says, “do not stand for a lot of things the current president stands for” including issues of sexism, racism and LGBTQ rights.
I encourage you to read the article by Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation, who makes the connection between Rapinoe’s stand and that of Muhammad Ali in the 1960s, when his refusal to go to war against the Vietnamese (“they never called me n_ _ _ _r”) destroyed his boxing career.
Quoting Zirin, “Words have power. Truth has power. Athletes, when they use their platform to speak truth to power, can change the world.” This is my simple shout out to the super talented Megan Rapinoe and her teammates Ali Krieger and Alex Morgan for telling it like it is to reporters and then moving on to the business at hand.
Looks like I’ll be eating my lunch and tuning in to women’s soccer for the first time in my life.
I wasn’t sure about posting it here, but I couldn’t help but admire this poster of Megan. Gorgeous.
My main references in this post are from radio interviews today, March 25, 2019, with John Nichols of The Nation, Ruth Coniff editor at large of The Progressive, and Jeff Cohen, journalism professor, founder of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) broadcast on the KPFA program Letters and Politics with Mitch Jeserich.
I agree with those journalists who say that the Democratic Party establishment’s strategy of “Waiting for Mueller” —like Samuel Beckett’s theater of the absurd characters Estragon and Vladimir—is bankrupt. Outside the narrow scope of Robert Mueller’s 2-year investigation, is a very long list of abuses by Donald Trump, in plain sight, documented, and proudly asserted by the so-called president himself. Just because the Republican-dominated Senate would not convict their corrupt, lying standard-bearer, does not mean that articles of impeachment should not be brought.
It would bring media attention back from the obsessive cable coverage of “Russiagate” to an ever-growing list of impeachable offenses and damage to our constitutional democracy. Below are the articles of Impeachment from RootsAction.org with links to an explanation of each. This information should be put before the American public night after night. It might help balance the flock of tweets emanating from the Oval Office or presidential bedroom each night. (FAIR noted 5000% more airtime coverage on MSNBC regarding the Mueller investigation than on the U.S. complicity in the war on Yemen and humanitarian crisis there.)
Trump Articles of Impeachment
Violation of Constitution on Domestic Emoluments
Violation of Constitution on Foreign Emoluments
Incitement of Violence
Interference With Voting Rights
Discrimination Based On Religion
Illegal Threat of Nuclear War
Abuse of Pardon Power
Obstruction of Justice
Collusion Against the United States with a Foreign Government
Failure to Reasonably Prepare for or Respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria
Separating Children and Infants from Families
Illegally Attempting to Influence an Election
Tax Fraud and Public Misrepresentation
Assaulting Freedom of the Press
Supporting a Coup in Venezuela
Unconstitutional Declaration of Emergency
Both Pence and Trump lied today in their statements saying Trump was “completely exonerated” while even the 4-page summary noted that Mueller took no stand on the obstruction of justice charge against the president. Bernie is demanding release of “the whole damn report” instead of a cursory summary of two years of work by an Attorney General who had exhibited bias about it long before he was confirmed. What information might be there to add to congressional oversight hearings?
As noted by Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn:
“The [Mueller] investigation has already led to 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and five prison sentences. Numerous additional investigations of possible criminal conduct uncovered by the Special Counsel have been spun off to other prosecutors. The string of crimes that have already been unearthed and made public is staggering and unprecedented in our nation’s history.”
Yes, sister. You got that right.
I admit I saw only one and a quarter of the eight films nominated for Best Picture for the 2019 Academy Awards, but having recently seen The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman Jr., I’m surprised it didn’t receive a mention—especially because Black Panther, Black KKKlansman and the winner, Green Book, received so much attention (perhaps as a result of the #OscarsSoWhite protest in previous years?)
When a friend told me she steered clear of the film because of the title, I was reminded of what the director said attracted him to the young adult novel by Angie Thomas on which the film was based: its title! Tillman, in the excellent DVD extras, said he immediately understood it as Tupac’s “Thug Life,” the acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” It inspired him to undertake the making of this film which addresses both obvious issues like racial profiling and police brutality, and more subtle things like code switching (more on this later) and claims by well-meaning allies (like the main character’s white boyfriend) of “color blindness.”
The Hate U Give was extremely well reviewed when it came out. It garnered awards from African American Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Black Reel Awards, American Film Festival, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards and more with best performances for the amazing young actress Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), supporting actor Russell Hornsby (Maverick Carter), screenwriter [the late] Audry Wells, and director Tillman. The film also stars Common as a black police officer who finds himself admitting his own differing treatment of white people and people of color. “It’s complex,” he says to his niece Starr when she confronts him. An incident in the film had its real-life counterpart just a few days ago with the exoneration of the Sacramanto police officers who shot and killed unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark in March 2018.
When The Hate You Give opens, the camera pans through the front window of a neat, yet humble, house with peeling paint. A father is giving his daughter and son “The Talk.” He tells them in detail what to do if stopped by police: keep your hands visible (as he places his on the dining room table and instructs them do the same; follow all directions; answer questions; and “Don’t move too much because moving makes the police all nervous.” In the interviews featured in the DVD Extras, the actors and author all describe their experiences with getting “The Talk.” One described it as “a part of our culture.” That actor as a boy had taken three buses (starting at 5:30 a.m.) to get from his neighborhood to a private school, and declared getting and giving the talk can be “a matter of life and death.”
Another of the DVD extras explained Code Switching, a term I was not familiar with, and is a topic rarely addressed in the media. It was featured, with humor, in Boots Riley’s 2018 film, Sorry to Bother You, in which the hero gains financial success in telemarketing by using his “white voice.” In The Hate U Give, Starr and her brother live in Garden Heights but attend the all-white private school Williamson Prep. Starr struggles to be herself as she adjusts her language and behavior depending on whether she’s in the ’hood with her family or with her friends from school, including her boyfriend Chris. The conversation the two young people have about their relationship on Prom Night is one of the most enlightening in the film. Starr says, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”
I’m glad my DVD player is holding up so that I can take advantage of material besides the feature that the discs contain. In the case of The Hate U Give, the interviews and commentary by director, actors and author increased my pleasure and expanded my consciousness greatly. I recommend the film highly. In fact, I believe everyone, especially young people, should see it.
Below are links from a blog post on Amazon’s headquarters deal with New York that I never completed. Check them for background to the article I’m pointing out today from The Nation titled “New York Fights – and Amazon Flees.” Yes, the company with $11 billion in 2018 profits that has paid no income tax for the past two years and is, in fact, getting a $120 million Federal tax rebate, has picked up its marbles and gone elsewhere.
There are economic diversity issues for New York to consider, as the article points out at the end, but things could be done that would benefit the city more than Bezos and his helipad. Good work, citizens!
Here is the Press Democrat editorial that incited me to write about Amazon last Fall.
Also check out Richard Wolff ‘s “Economic Update” on the Amazon sweet deal from November 30, 2018.
WordPress has changed, so this is not exactly how I wanted my first post of 2019 to be, but I don’t have time for the tutorial now. Stay tuned as the old dog tries to learn new tricks.