Saturday, June 30, 2007

Taking Liberties (12A)

Written and Directed by Chris Atkins

Under Tony Blair, the UK took significant strides down the road to being a totalitarian state. That's the controversial claim Taking Liberties makes, but it's a difficult one to argue against once the evidence has been stacked up.

The film bases its case on six planks of post-war 'freedom', which Atkins insists all Prime Ministers since Churchill have held sacred: the right to protest, freedom of speech, privacy, no detention without trial, fair extradition, and absolutely no torture.

Using a slightly confusing mixture of interviews, sinister animations, news clips and front line footage, Atkins then shows us how all of these 'rights' have effectively been shredded over the Blair decade. Atrocities and absurd humour mingle 'freely', and I imagine the film would shake many blissfully ignorant people out of their stupor.

We know that Blair invoked 9/11 when he wanted to make some of his most tyrannical assaults on freedom. But none of them - from bans on protesting outside Parliament without police permission, to ID cards - could actually stop any terrorists, and almost all seem to have been planned before September 2001. If there were a few months without any terrorist activity, Tony's cronies claimed their laws were working. But 7/7 didn't mean failure, it just meant even tougher ones were needed, like ninety days detention without trial. And he wasn't actually that bothered about terrorism anyway, because he shrugged off intelligence that invading Iraq would 'heighten' the threat. So why was Blair so keen on the iron fist and jackboot?

Atkins doesn't have an answer, and that is this film's Achilles heel. It's all very well showing us the tireless Brian Haw saying 'be inspired', but be inspired to do what?

What Atkins fails to tell us is that ever since the state was first created, it has always brought in more draconian laws at times of a large gap between rich and poor. In fact the word 'draconian' refers to the Ancient Greek legislator Draco, who brought in the death penalty for what might today be seen as minor offences, at a time when the Athens aristocracy was having trouble with the lower orders.

Under Blair, an enormous amount of wealth was shifted from the poor to the rich, and the richest one hundred saw their fortune treble in value. 'Trust me' Tony built a police state for the same reason kings used to have castles built - protection. But that isn't an argument against trying to create an equal society; it's an argument for storming the fortress now, before the walls get any higher.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sicko (12A)

Written and Directed by Michael Moore
Release details to be confirmed

A man sits in his living room. He has a deep gash in his knee, and a needle and thread in his hands. A cat watches as the man inexpertly sews up his own wound, seemingly without any anaesthetic. Which godforsaken hellhole is this first scene of Michael Moore's new documentary set in? Why, it's the good old U S of A, the world's richest nation.

That puts me in mind of a Simpsons episode, where Bill Gates explains to Homer that he didn't get to be so rich by writing a lot of cheques.

Fifty million people in the United States can't get professional healthcare, since they do not have health insurance, either because they can't afford it, or because they have a pre-existing health condition. As for the other 250 million, they have to struggle for every cent when it comes to paying for treatment. The 'health companies' pay bonuses to doctors with the highest rates of turning claimants down, so we see an interview with one woman who'd just been refused money on the grounds that her condition was 'not life-threatening'. She died from that condition before filming was completed. As a repentant former 'hitman' for one of these corporations told Moore:
"It's not unintentional, it's not a mistake, it's not an oversight. You're not slipping through the cracks. Somebody made that crack and swept you towards it, and the intent is to maximise profit."
So the film sets off around the world, in search of better systems. Moore's travels take him to Canada (where US citizens illegally sneak over the border in search of cheap drugs), France, and Britain. Cue one of his favourite tricks, playing naive. No, that couple won't have to pay before they take their newborn baby home. Yep, that prescription really is free to everyone on a pension or out of work. No, that doctor doesn't have to take the bus. It gets old very quickly, but I suppose many Americans will be genuinely shocked.

Then it's time for the biggest stunt of all, the kind of thing that Michael Moore is an expert at creating. He collects a group of 9/11 volunteers and firefighters, who can't afford the medication and treatment they desperately need, and takes them aboard a boat bound for Guantánamo Bay, where 'enemy combatants' are - at least in theory - able to get free healthcare. To Moore's supposed surprise, they are unable to gain access to the facility. But since they're already on the island of Cuba, and Castro's regime grants its people free healthcare as well - again, at least in theory - why not check out Fidel's pharmacies and hospitals? There follow some deeply moving scenes, as the workers hailed as heroes by Bush (but swept under the carpet once he'd had his photo ops) realise they are going to get free treatment from a state they'd always been taught was among the world's most evil.

I get the feeling that liberal America's favourite filmmaker and author has undergone a slight radicalisation since 2004's Fahrenheit 9/11. There's no analysis here, but neither are there any illusions that the Democrats are going to change anything. He even lays into Hillary Clinton, who he wrote a chapter-long love-letter to in 'Downsize This!'. The problem is outlined, with disgust, compassion, and occasional humour. The closest he gets to offering a solution is silently looking at Karl Marx's grave in London's Highgate Cemetery, which bears the slogan 'workers of all lands unite'.

Until that happens, healthcare will continue to get worse around the world. It may be a lot better in this country than in the US, but the profit motive eats a bit further into the system each day. Could any party carry out radical surgery, even if they wanted to? No, because the UK is in a race to the bottom against every other country.

The NHS was created because the British working class of the 1940s - our parents and grandparents - demanded a better standard of living after World War Two. Back then, governments could grant a few crumbs from their table, because economies were largely organised at the level of the nation state. But now international capital rules the whole globe, so the working class response must also be global.

Anyway, pretty good film.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Liverpool Demonstrator Nearly Blinded by G8 Police

Of course, Matt is just one person, and therefore no more or less important than the other individual victims of the police's brutal methods and the capitalist system they defend, but I know him, so here's his press release, and here's a link to the story in the Liverpool Daily Post.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bin Charges - A Load Of Rubbish?

There's been more rubbish on the news than ever recently. The government's Environment Secretary David Miliband has been wagging his finger at people who don't recycle their household waste, and proposing that councils should charge non-recyclers £30 per year.

Now that might seem fair enough. After all, the landfills are getting higher, and this has a terrible effect on the environment, increasing carbon emissions. But hang on a minute, haven't we already paid in our council taxes (which go up by a few percent a year)? Also, the UK produces 330 million tonnes of waste per year, of which only NINE percent comes from households! The vast majority comes from construction and demolition, with industry accounting for the rest. It's not even as if we choose to have a huge amount of packaging on our products - they come out of the shop that way!

Of course we should recycle as much as we can, but the problem is that because the profit system is set up to make more money for rich people, every other consideration comes way down the list. We need to create a system based on equality, and then we can give our environment the attention it deserves. Miliband's measures are therefore an attempt to distract from this, and squeeze a few million more quid from poor people into the bargain.

Anarchists in Ireland took action a similar scheme over there a few years ago. Maybe it's time to bin our rubbish politicians!

'Liverpool Care Slaves' To Strike?

Liverpool home care workers are considering strike action over a new 'zero hour' contract drawn up by the city council, which will cut their wages by up to 30%!

Carers claim that the cuts will effectively reduce their wages to below the national minimum wage of £5.35, once petrol, clothing, and communication costs are taken into account.

At a protest outside council offices at Millennium House in Victoria Street, carer Brenda Hicks told the Daily Post: “I already get paid less than the minimum wage, because the uniform I am wearing, I had to pay for. I bought my own mobile phone and I pay all my petrol.”

Marie Thomas from Norris Green, said: “All of this has been really distressing for the service users and the carers.”

It is vital that the care workers do take industrial action, not only for themselves, but also to protect the people they care for. If the wages are reduced to such disgustingly low levels, the number of people willing to go into the profession will be dramatically reduced. Maybe that's what the council are hoping! That would leave more money for their corrupt schemes and overseas 'missions' on millionaires' yachts!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (15)

Directed by Julien Temple
Screening at FACT from 7th-9th June 2007

I really enjoyed this film. The reason for that is that it was a celebratory biopic of John Mellor (much much much better known to the world as 'Joe Strummer'), and I think he was a really great guy. People who share my opinion will no doubt really enjoy this film too! What more is there to say? Well, I'd better say something.

If you've ever seen any biopic, you know what to expect. There's archive footage, there's interviews with people who knew the person in question. But here, the approach of punk's most famous documentary-maker Julien Temple is quite refreshingly different in a couple of respects. Firstly, almost all the interviews were conducted around a campfire, in a tribute to Joe's love of that environment. The only exception to this is imperial courtier and part-time rock star Bono, who got a well-deserved chorus of boos at my screening. Even more uniquely, though many of those interviewed are 'celebrities', their names do not appear on the screen. So when Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream appears, he is a Scottish bloke who was touched by The Clash when he was working in a factory. And that's great in a way, because this fact is much more important than his reasonably famous name.

Another nice touch is that Temple throws in some footage of things that Joe wasn't actually involved in - such as the BBC film of 1984 with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith - to give us a deeper impression of Strummer's lifelong battles with authority, from school bullies to dictatorial record company execs.

The film ends with November 2002 footage, showing one of Joe's last ever gigs, in support of firefighters striking for a decent wage and against cuts. The final words go to the prince of gutter poets, who went from privilege to poverty and back but whose 'heart' and brain always belonged to the working class and its struggles:

"People can change anything, so let's do things from a level of confidence and go for it!"

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

France In Flames

The stage seems set for a major showdown between capitalists and workers in France, following the election of right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to the presidency.

Sarkozy has been compared to George W Bush and Margaret Thatcher by friends and enemies alike, and he plans sweeping attacks on the working class, as demanded by international financiers. Sarkozy's Prime Minister François Fillon says France must prepare for an "electric shock". This is likely mean new restrictions on the right to strike, which will pave the way for changes to the 35-hour week, which was won by French workers in the 1990s. Hungarian-born Sarkozy also plans to further stigmatise immigrants, and especially the sans papiers (undocumented immigrants). Sarkozy showed his racist streak in 2005, when he described rioting Arab youths as "scum", and claimed poor suburbs needed to be "cleaned with a Karcher" (a type of industrial hose).

Most of the French ruling class seems to be lining-up behind Sarkozy, including members of the defeated Socialist Party (who have accepted posts in his cabinet), and trade union leaders. They know that previous assaults on living standards have been met with strikes and burning barricades, and are trying to put down working class resistance together.

But in a sign of things to come, there were riots all over the country as the election results were announced. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas. French workers will have to break with the union bureaucrats and 'left' parties if they're going to fight off this determined capitalist onslaught.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Nerve 10 Launch Party

Catalyst Media held a launch party for the TENTH edition of Merseyside's marvellous Nerve magazine on Saturday, 2nd June, from 7pm til midnight, at St Michael's Cricket Club, Southwood Road, Aigburth. If you weren't there, you were somewhere else, and missed a great gig!

Thanks to the musicians - Gert, The Dawn Chorus Collective, and Western Promise! Cheers to Amanda DeAngeles for her poetry! Ta to MC Hana for being mistress of ceremonies! Appreciation to the Catalyst team on the night - Ritchie, Sue and me! Esteem to the Cricket Club bar staff! Last and the opposite of least, acclamation to Bob for organising yet another ace and top and sound night, which should keep us in lecky and coffee for another few weeks!

Photos to follow...

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