Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

Category: Editorial (Page 1 of 9)

Trump Bombs Syria; I Leave for Mexico

The Lagoon in Cancun, Mexico, at sunset.

Tomorrow is Friday, April 7th, and I will soon be departing for Cancun, Mexico.

Quite frankly, with the news that Donald J. Trump has just gone and done yet another dumb thing (i.e., bombed Syria), I’m seriously thinking of claiming to be Canadian while in the sunny land down under.

It sounds like our departure from Austin (TX) will come just before the rain moves in, and the weather in Cancun is projected to be sunny and beautiful, with highs in the eighties. I spent an hour or so packing tonight, and tomorrow I will pack the cosmetic(s) bag, which carries our shampoo, toiletries, et. al.

I’m debating about whether or not to post a review of “Wilson,” the movie that starred Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern, which I recently saw. We went because, after all, when your name IS “Wilson”…..(finish that thought)
If I have time, I may post about it tomorrow. It’s a slight film and unlikely to get wide distribution.

Meanwhile, an interesting anecdote. Because we will need cash while in our neighbor to the South, and they always enjoy the use of U.S. dollars, as opposed to credit cards—and, also, because my credit card numbers were stolen in Mexico one year, which caused someone to run up a $25,000 bill on my card, we went to the Bank of America on Slaughter Lane. I had written my spouse a check for $200 to pay him back for cash he had loaned me when I was in Chicago for a week and forgot to take any cash. (My bad).

He presented the check, written on the Triumph Bank of East Moline, and, of course, they wouldn’t cash it at all.

I was present, doing battle with a machine that was going to give me cash, I hoped, using my debit card from BOA, but I couldn’t figure out how to get more than $80. My husband suggested that I write my check for $400 (rather than the $200 I owed him) and he’d give me half of it for my cash. I would write this check on my Bank of America checkbook.

That seemed a good idea, so, in full view of the 2 cashiers, I wrote this check and he stepped up to cash it.
The cashier demanded that he be fingerprinted before she would cash the relatively small check. They had just watched me (the account holder) write the check in the first place, and we explained why we were writing it (need cash for vacation). Still, some flunky raced out with an inky thing and he had to put his fingerprint on the bottom of this Bank of America check before they would cash it.

Now, what occurs to me is this: what good is my husband’s fingerprint on this check? It isn’t like he has done major time in a correctional institute or anything! He isn’t in any “data banks” of fingerprints. And that is all assuming that the Powers-that-Be thought this 72-year-old man looked like a really guilty character.

Has this ever happened to anyone else, because it seemed very dumb to me.

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” @ SXSW

Genre: Documentary Feature
Length: 95 minutes
Writer/Director: Brian Knappenberger
Principal Cast: Nick Denton, A.J. Daulario, John Cook, David Folkenflick, Floyd Abrams, Peter Sterne, David Houston, Margaret Sullivan, Jay Rosen, John L. Smith

The trial between wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, but ended up as a case study in how big money can silence media using legal means. This examination of the free press in an age of inequality echoes the “Vanity Fair” issue with an article by David Margolick entitled “V.C. for Vendetta.”

From that article, we learn that, outed as gay (“Peter Thiels Is Totally Gay”) by one of Gawker’s web sites in 2007, Silicon billionaire Peter Thiel ($2.7 billion as a co-founder of PayPal, and an early investor in Facebook) laid low until 2016, when he seized the opportunity to financially back Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy suit over a sex tape to bankrupt the entire organization.

In this documentary that interviews all the principals except Thiel (who is seen speaking at other venues), we learn that “what he’s done is to legitimize the idea that an uninvolved party can fund an effort by someone else in order to destroy a news organization. If billionaires and multi-millionaires can be behind the scenes doing this, that is conspiratorial and underhanded completely.” As Gawker founder Nick Denton, who was personally bankrupted, said, “We were outgunned here.”

Knappenberger dubs it, “abusing the justice system to go after journalists.” All these efforts have taken back a lot of 1st Amendment rights. Many others are mentioned in the piece: the Chandler family, the Salzburger family of New York, Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the “Washington Post” and, in greater detail, Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

John L. Smith, the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote a book about early investors in Las Vegas’ history entitled “Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and the Current Sharks.” There was one line mentioning Sheldon Adelson. Adelson sued Smith for the one line in the book, and lodged the $15 million dollar suit at a time when Smith was bedside in a local hospital with his young daughter Amelia, who was suffering from a brain tumor.

Smith was offered all sorts of financial inducements not to publish articles about Adelson, but resisted. He was blackmailed regarding the one line in his book, and, as he said: “Bullies always act the same.”

Then, unexpectedly, the entire staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was brought in to a meeting cold and told the newspaper had been sold. They were not allowed to know who had bought them.
Rather than take this without investigating, the entire staff, including one employee who had been with the paper for 39 and ½ years, dug in to find out if Adelson was behind the purchase in the face of overwhelming obfuscation.

Smith said, “”Everybody came in and everybody stayed. For us, it was preserving whatever integrity we had. We knew it was a career-ending move. Some stories are worth losing your job over.” As Smith asserted, “Journalism is a calling for a lot of us.”

As a Journalism Major (Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship recipient at the University of Iowa), this documentary spoke to me. I characterize myself as “”Old School” because my stint with 5 “real” newspapers began at the age of 10 and continues today, 6 decades later. I am of the generation that grew up with only 3 television channels trusting the voice of Walter Cronkite to tell us the truth. There was no Internet. There was no cable television, and we believed in presenting both sides of the story so that readers could draw fair conclusions with all the facts at their disposal.

The idea of “hacking” Internet accounts (there was no Internet) and Wiki Leaks style dissemination of documents from the e-mail of others was decades away. I find it personally offensive that anyone in a position of authority can level wholesale charges of bias and dishonesty against the hardworking men and women of the press. One of the least honest politicians (or human beings) of all time has underscored just how important a free and independent press is from his podium in the White House. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson talked about the importance of a free press to keep the checks and balances of this country working properly.

This documentary was depressing in that it showed the extent to which being rich means being able to destroy the very institutions we all thought were inviolate. As we watch money corrupting the very fabric of society, we are simultaneously experiencing the intentional undermining of the free press and I, for one, view it as one of the biggest tragedies our Republic has experienced since its inception.

A very informative, relevant and concerning documentary
. Reading the “Vanity Fair” article by David Margolick explained much of the Peter Thiel/Nick Denton Gawker sex tape dispute in far greater detail, which added to my understanding of the film’s rehash of the trial, (which was surreal in so many ways). The revelations about the Las Vegas Review-Journal were new to me, but explained a lot.

Worth watching, if you care about remaining free and being part of an informed populace in a working democracy.

Super Bowl Sunday: Not Feeling So Super

I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.

Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.

Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).

Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.

On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.

Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.

Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.

On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.

As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!

“Trump & Consequences” Fun and Safe Only for the Rich and Elderly

Trump & Consequences


Lifting from the newest issue of “Vanity Fair,” I return peripherally to a discussion of presidential politics. Some of you may remember that I followed 3 presidential campaigns, writing about ’04, ’08 and ’12 for Yahoo (3 million hits on over 1,000 article).

My writing(s) of 2008 even led to an invitation to come cover the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

I had planned to follow the presidential race of 2016 and started out by attending a Jeb Bush rally. After that, a Bernie rally, one by Hillary and—the coup de grace—- (some might say coup d’etat)—a Trump rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa.

That was it, for me.


I came home and said to my long-suffering Republican husband. “I’m not going to cover the presidential race any more. It’s not fun any more.”
When he asked for specifics, I referred him to video clips of AP photographers being roughed up and Trump belittling and denigrating registered press from outlets such as CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and MSNBC. Trump enjoyed penning them up, if you recall, and hurling abuse at them, and he still enjoys calling journalists “Among the most dishonest people in the world” and other such over-the-top insulting hyperbole.

Since I am one of the most honest people I know (to my detriment, usually), I wanted no more of Mr. Trump, and I switched back to my long-time love: movies. After 15 years as the Quad City Times critic back in the day (1970-85, roughly) I began reviewing for www.QuadCities.com and continued the reviewing I have always done on this blog.

I now am also a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics’ Circle and write for one of the six largest movie blogs in the country, www.TheMovieBlog. Thanks to the wizardry of Anthony Whyte, my offerings on such things as “The 20 Best Films of Paul Newman” or “The 35 Best U.S. Films on Politics Ever Made” appear with lots of pictures and trailers to add to the text. And, most importantly, it is fun. Thanks to writing film reviews for national readerships (over 600,000 for The Movie Blog) I could, in theory, attend any film festival I might wish as Press. (SXSW in March; Chicago in October).

Today’s article is not about movies, however, although I love them dearly, but is about the “Vanity Fair” article entitled Trump and Consequences which Michael Lewis wrote in the February, 1970, “Vanity Fair”

DONALD TRUMP GAMES

Apparently, Donald J. Trump tried to have games made much earlier than 2017.
There was Trump Collector’s Edition Monopoly (“The Fast Dealing Property-Trading Game.”) After that, in 1989, “Trump: The Game” (“It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”) And, following on the heels of those two failed attempts came 2004’s “The Apprentice” game (“I’m back and you’re fired!”)

Only now are we ready for another Trump game.

Here are the rules for Trump & Consequences:

Six participants (minimum) are required. Half of the number are designated “Members of Trump’s Court.” The other half are assigned the term” Citizens.”

Each “Citizen” selects a “Character,” pulled randomly from a bowl or hat that contains descriptions of that character. If you can get hold of a large shoe or boot from Ivanka Trump’s collection that would serve nicely and fit into the spirit of the game. All the characters are rather stereotypical and defined mainly by race, religion, gender and a few other characteristics.

For example, the character card might say: “45-year-old white Jewish female without health insurance” or “young Muslim male whose house is at risk of being flooded by rising sea levels,” or “male Catholic Mexican undocumented immigrant.”

Amidst the several hundred character descriptions are “Trump Cards.”

These Characters are actual relatives of the presumed president of the United States, by blood or marriage, and they go straight to the top of a miniature replica of Trump Tower to sit out the round.

Other players’ tokens rise, step by step. The roll of a pair of dice determines the rate of their climb. If a player rolls a 12, he climbs a dozen steps up the escalator staircase The Donald descended with Melania to announce his candidacy for the most important political position in the world. (It’s not moving; it’s been stopped, momentarily, so he may enjoy yet another Victory Lap basking in the golden glow of his Russian-enhanced win over Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

Some of the steps on the way up the (stationary) escalator or staircase are harmless.
Some are inscribed with terms like: “You’ve been re-tweeted!” If a player is re-tweeted, he or she draws from a stack of cards reminiscent of Chance or Community Chest cards in real Monopoly.

The cards drawn describe various life situations that might occur to a citizen of the United States trying to live through the Trump regime, along with strategic consequences,
such as “Your company gets a great bribe from the U.S. government! Take the escalator or elevator up five floors.” Another might read: “You’re deported! Or “Your public school is defunded and the money given to Christian charter schools by Betsy DeVos!” or “Join an undocumented immigrant wherever on the escalator/staircase he may be.”

The player reads aloud his Life Situation card and then chooses between 2 options:

1) He can accept his fate and move his token as directed.
2) He can plead his case to Trump’s Court. That is, he can argue that his character does not belong in the Life Situation assigned.

The argument might go something like this: “As a white Christian male I am highly unlikely to be deported.” Or, “As a 50-year-old Asian female, I won’t be affected by the closure of a public school or the defunding of Planned Parenthood.”


This is where the Game-within-the-Game begins.


The Courtiers discuss the likelihood, in Trump’s version of America, of the character ending up in any given Life Situation.
Therefore, they are compelled to think in stereotypes, just as Trump does, and to imagine the radically different outcomes that might be experienced by different kinds of people in identical situations, [since “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”](Animal Farm, George Orwell).

No white male is likely to be deported or sexually assaulted, for example, though he is plausibly a recipient of a corporate bribe. The Court’s deliberations on such matters are at the heart of the game. If you think this sounds unfair or unlikely, you should have watched the 2-hour special on Tom Brokaw, where he told Oprah Winfrey that he, himself, wonders how many of the Big Breaks in his career he would have gotten if the color of his skin had been one shade darker. He defined that concern (racism) as among the biggest we face as a nation, second only to climate change.

The Court’s deliberations on such matters are at the heart of the game.
Courtiers will find themselves saying things like: “Too bad you’re black!” Or, “God, it really sucks to be a Muslim in Trump Land!” Or, “Too bad you’re a member of that Rainbow coalition at this time in history.”

Each round ends when one citizen reaches The Donald’s Penthouse.
All Citizens then become Courtiers, and all Courtiers Citizens. No one ever actually wins the game, but all the players experience the elation and terror of the new realities of Trump’s America and the ever-shifting odds facing a great number of Americans in a variety of different circumstances, who find themselves, discriminated against and at the mercy of Trump and Pence’s whims. Not a Christian? Bad on you. “Venezuelan immigrant with a green card who is just learning to speak English and has minimal funding.” Good luck!

Trump also has the power to occasionally pardon an undocumented immigrant the way the president usually pardons a Thanksgiving turkey; that player gets to stay and graduate at the top of his class. Think “The Hunger Games.”

On the other hand, Cabinet Courtier posts are handed out primarily to those who were, in their previous lives, diametrically opposed to whichever Cabinet post they are appointed to, or, as a corollary, have no experience whatsoever for the job they are assigned. Examples of this abound, such as Rick Perry’s appointment to the very Cabinet post and department he famously wanted to eliminate (but couldn’t remember the name of), and the EPA head being a climate change denier. And, of course, there is Betsy Devos, who never taught a day in her life, was never a school administrator, never was in charge of a large budget for any business, and apparently does not believe in the separation of church and state, since her family (Amway and Blackwater billions) has given money to Christian schools…and, of course, to those on the Committee that, today, forwarded her nomination for Secretary of Education to the floor for confirmation. (The split was 11 Democrats voting against Devos and the 12 Republican members voting for the woman who has never experienced anything that even remotely smacks of taking out a student loan for college, nor run or taught in a school of any kind.)

Actually, the LESS qualified you are for the office, the more likely you will be to be appointed to head it up. “Heckuva’ job, Brownie! Times 100.

After a negative Court verdict, the Citizen discards his Character card for another randomly drawn card and so, as the game proceeds, the less fortunate Characters will naturally be purged from it and replaced by the more fortunate ones. (Let’s hope that The Donald is not a fan of “The Purge” films or we’ll end up with that scenario!)

In a process that resembles natural selection (says Michael Lewis in the Vanity Fair article), “the Characters ascending to Trump Tower will become whiter and older and, most likely, male.”
American will once again re-invent themselves in the old, white, male image of the 2008 RNC, which had only one black person anywhere near it (I was there and inside) and he was an Obama impersonator hired for the occasion.

A player who started his climb as a Muslim immigrant on food stamps might end up as Ivanka Trump through the luck of the Character draw, perhaps.
In short, the game, as it goes, will reveal the predicaments of entire classes of Americans caught in the chaos. The Court will be forced to contemplate, as voters apparently never did, the character of the president and the consequences for great swaths of our society. For instance, all those coal miners who voted for The Donald so blithely and are now finding out that Obamacare and The Affordable Care Act are one and the same and they are going to lose all their health insurance just as their pensions ran out on Dec. 31, 2016, are experiencing Buyers’ Remorse. [Too late for that, Coal Miners. Should have thought about reading up before you voted. A good book to start with would have been one on all of Donald J. Trump’s previous business dealings (and I don’t mean the one he didn’t write.)]

For children, their fate in Trump’s America will obviously turn on their race, religion and socio-economic status, as there is no longer an Obama figure fighting for them to receive health care and equal opportunity.
The shrewder players of the game will shun them as a group. Their “weakness” is their personal exposure to the distant future, which, if Leninist and Disrupter-in-Chief Bannon is in charge, almost certainly involves another war. (Wars are SO good for business!)

Says Lewis: “Politicians often stiff the future on behalf of the present, but no one in the political landscape has cut so many Draconian bargains with the future as Trump. An indifference to the long term is one of the keys to his behavior.” His treatment of his fellow human beings has left him in the odd position of having no real friends except those toadies who hope to profit by kissing his Trumpian ring. Trump’s willingness to borrow money that he does not repay has led many Wall Street banks to refuse to do business with him, which is why he probably is in debt to Russia by as much as $12 billion (we’ll never know, since he won’t release his tax returns, which also show him paying no taxes for literally years.) If he owes them that much money, they could ruin him by calling in the debt, but now all they have to do is dictate to him what he should do to de-stabilize the United States of America until it becomes the Divided States of America and Russia wins.

The cannier players of Trump’s America will realize that they are better off limiting their exposure to the future, so the older their Character is, the less likely it is to suffer the consequences of Donald Trump.
I can personally attest to this, as one of my friends, a Trump supporter, said, “Come on, Connie. You’re in the group that will benefit from all of his plans. Get with the program.”

If you play a character that depicts even a 60-year-old Muslim woman, you may live to play on. Play with a token that represents any child and you are eventually out of the game. It may take a while for less thoughtful folk to wake up to this reality. After all, it’s tough to say to your 8-year-old granddaughters: “Too bad you’re a kid and female.”

Millennials: GET ON THIS! I protested Vietnam. I protested for Free Speech (Berkeley, 1965, Mario Savio). I protested for civil rights. It’s up to you, now, to protest these pre-determined Character Outcomes and right the wrongs that Donald J. Trump (et. al.) represent(s) to our country’s Constitution and its long revered ideals of freedom of religion, among other principles. If you don’t start paying attention and reading up, you run the risk of becoming like those coal miners in West Virginia, hoodwinked and flim-flammed, with no health insurance (“I’ll be okay. I have the Affordable Care Act, not Obamacare” was a real quote on my Facebook page), no job, and no pension. The average life expectancy of a mine worker today is only 42 years, and that was before the complete destruction of Obamacare and Medicaid.

Good luck, Players! Pick your Character and start praying (Pence likes that).

“Blood on the Mountain” Documentary Recaps Plight of West Virginia Coal Miners

Genre: feature-length documentary
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Producers: Deborah Wallace, Mari-Lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman
Release date: November 18, 2016 from Abramorama
Reviewed by: Connie Wilson

The opening scenes from the impressive documentary “Blood on the Mountain” show the beautiful forested hills of Appalachian coal country from the air. West Virginia, second in the nation in coal production (and second poorest state in the nation), looks beautiful from hundreds of feet overhead.

And then we go to ground and reality rears its ugly head.

A litany of mining disasters is listed: Hawks Nest, West Virginia: 764 African-Americans in unmarked graves with 10 to 14 dying in the mine(s) daily.

The conflict at Blair Mountain.
Buffalo Creek (125 killed, 4,000 homeless, engulfed 17 towns with coal slurry).
Brushy Fork Slurry: 9 billion gallons of coal slurry released to bury nearby towns.
52 dead under Donald Blankenship’s Massey Energy.
Sago Mine Explosion, Jan. 2, 2006.
Aracoma Mountain Fire, in 2000, 2 dead.
Upper Big Branch Explosion, April, 2005, in the #9 mine. Seventy-nine went in; 50 came out—“the worst explosion since 1984”—29 dead.

And yet Don Blankenship’s (Massey CEO) e-mail, read into the Congressional record during the post-disaster investigation, said: “You need to ignore them (federal rules and regulations) and run coal.”

Anyone who wants to know what a mine that is trying to evade regulatory efforts might resemble need only take in Antonio Banderas’ 2015 film “The 33” about gold and copper miners trapped underground in Chile for 69 days before rescue (Banderas played Mario Sepulveda, the group’s leader). The precious metal may be different, but the methods to avoid ensuring the health and safety of the mine workers comes very close to coal mining in 2016. Any time a federal regulator was on the way to make an inspection, the word was put out; efforts were made to avoid detection/correction of any infractions of rules put in place to safeguard the health and safety of the workers.

THE GOOD:

Blood on the Mountain starts with a brief history of the rise of coal at the end of the 19th centur
y. Because of the abuse of workers, unions began to form to fight for the rights of the working man. (Sylvester Stallone’s 1978 film “F.I.S.T.”, for which I attended the World Premiere, was about the fight to unionize in the face of brutal opposition from management). A voice onscreen says, “That’s how we got the New Deal.” FDR in a Fireside Chat is shown telling the nation that government should “seek the primary good of the greater number.” Between 1935 and 1938 Roosevelt championed the New Labor Act and the Fair Labor Act and progress was made.

But the demand for coal as a cheap energy source peaked in the 1920’s and there are only 500 mines left in the United States today.

Of that number, those in Wyoming are far and away the biggest producers of coal (4x more than West Virginia), but West Virginia, long associated with coal mining, is second. It is also the second poorest state in the Union.

Once the heady days of the passage of Fair Labor Acts were past, Homer Adam Holt, Governor of West Virginia in 1939, tried to amend educational literature in the schools to make it more to his liking. Changing history by writing it to the Governor’s liking was recommended by those in power this way, “It is better to have a mediocre book than to antagonize the Governor.” Corrupt governors abounded before and after Holt.

The comment, prescient and predictive today, is made that “industrialists have been able to get by with whatever they want” and, as the documentary attests, “there were a continuous stream of accidents and treatment of others as less important” by those in power.
(*Recent Reference: “Deep Horizon” Mark Wahlberg film about the BP catastrophe in the Gulf.)

Corruption of the officials in West Virginia was a given. Between 1984 and 1991, under Governor James Manchen, more than 75 state officials went to jail. While this does not seem unique to West Virginia (witness Illinois and Louisiana officials, for openers), Davitt McAteer, head of mine safety and featured as a talking head in this documentary, does lay out their repeated attempts to break up unions, beginning in 1984.

The miners, for their part, are quoted in Blood on the Mountain this way: “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.” McAteer says, “A proud heritage came to a crashing end in the 1980s,” referencing the UMWA (United Mine Workers Association) looking out for the health, pensions and safety of its members. As a former worker said, “Production was the name of the game at all costs…We had to produce to keep our jobs.”

Cecil Roberts (a mine worker) refers to “the power of intimidation” and talks about one mine administrator with a wife with cystic fibrosis whose medication cost $5,000 per month. Threaten that mine worker with loss of his position if he does not do your bidding. If someone tried to stand up to then-president of the UMWA, Tony Boyle, as Jock Yablonski did in 1969, that individual risked his life. Murder was used as a tool. Wikipedia entry: Joseph Albert “Jock” Yablonski (March 3, 1910 – December 31, 1969) was an American labor leader in the United Mine Workers in the 1950s and 1960s. He was murdered in 1969 by killers hired by a union political opponent, Mine Workers president Tony Boyle.”

Therefore, the number of mine workers steadily declined from a high of 500,000 to, currently, 80,000—and all but 14,000 of those members are retired. It is obvious that, like Social Security where those taking out money are outnumbering those paying in money, the funds to support miners in their retirement or ill health are drying up, while, simultaneously, the demand for coal (and coal miners) is declining.

While President Obama’s regulations against coal are used to urge coal miners to vote for the opposition, the reality is that such EPA regulations began under Republican President George W. Bush. The reasons for the precipitous decline in jobs in West Virginia mining coal are many and varied and blaming “tree huggers” just won’t fly in the face of facts.

Mechanization and automation has idled thousands. “Appalachia is a shell of its former self…Parents are telling their children to go.” No less an authority than Jay Rockefeller is seen telling his audience, “It’s a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that things can be as they were.” Coal is a finite mineral and mining has been going on since the 1800s. Is it any wonder that now you have to go deeper and deeper into the ground to mine? Instead of even trying, mines have resorted to simply blowing off the tops of the mountains using explosives, which damages the environment and the topography of the state.

Despite the fighting words “Coal IS West Virginia,” coal mining is a dying industry. 80% of coal mines are owned by out-of-state corporations. Mines have destroyed 352,000 lush forested acres using explosives as of 2009. Wendell Berry is heard to say, “The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be destroyed for the benefit of another.” [What comes to mind is the Brazilian rain forest and attempts to save it, or the Arctic and attempts to ban drilling beneath the polar ice caps.]

In addition to silicosis (“black lung disease”) which has made the average miner’s life expectancy only 42 years of age, in Charleston, West Virginia, “They poisoned people’s water and commerce goes on.” The chemical MCHM used by Freedom Industries to process coal caused a Flint, Michigan, water situation (for different reasons) where water could not be consumed, used for washing, or considered safe in any way. Dr. Rahul Gupta, a medical director, is shown speaking to that issue, and Chris Hedges, an author, says, “They tried to make it appear to be an anomaly.” Nine counties were affected and a state of emergency was declared. Bottled water had to be delivered to anyone living in those nine counties.

Immediately thereafter, on January 17, 2014, Freedom Industries declared bankruptcy.

The declaring of bankruptcy is a common ploy used by unscrupulous coal companies to avoid having to pay reparations or retirement sums due or health care promised to workers when they began in the mines. It’s a bit like the plot of “The Producers” (i.e., Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel plan for a play to fail so they can use it as a tax write-off) where a mine is set up to fail and then bankruptcy can be declared, relieving the unscrupulous mining company of any obligations to the men who risked their lives underground mining the coal. Seven thousand coal mining jobs have been lost in West Virginia since 2011. In 2015, over 11,000 coal miners lost their jobs, according to “The Hill.”

“The Hill” goes on to attempt to blame the loss of coal mining jobs on federal regulations, but the truth is much more complicated.

To wit:

1) China is trying to clean up its pollution problem, so the Asian demand for coal from places like West Virginia did not measure up to expectations.
2) Clean, renewable energy sources are cutting into the concept of coal as king. Natural gas, for one, is cheaper and the head of Exxon is all for using natural gas rather than coal for power. In fact, the day the Paris Climate Control Pact took effect, the head of Exxon announced his support for the climate initiatives the Paris act endorsed, which included cutting back on coal to eliminate pollution and global warming.
3) Although Donald Trump hates wind turbines because they clutter his Scottish golf course view and kill birds, Obama supported wind and solar efforts, and, even in the coal state of Illinois where I live (Illinois is 5th in coal production), the nuclear power plant in Cordova (IL) recently received a death sentence reprieve from Republican Governor Bruce Rauner which is good for the next decade, despite consistently losing money operating it.
4) If the demand for coal were still high, eastern states have cleaner coal and it is easier to get Eastern coal to market.
5) Australia also is capable of producing coal for export.
6) Mechanization and automation, mentioned previously, have cut into the need for coal miners.
7) Changes in how coal is extracted from the ground also reduces the demand for coal miners.

THE BAD

Blood on the Mountain is a documentary with a point of view and those who do not accept climate change and global warming as fact will dispute its point-of-view. It also did not address the life-and-death struggle in the halls of Congress ongoing in December of 2016 to help save miners’ pensions and retirement benefits, gutted by unscrupulous companies who do not believe that promises should be honored. There is footage of a UMWA rally in September in Washington, D.C. regarding Senate Bill #1714, the Miners’ Protection Act.

After a huge coal miners’ strike in 1946, Harry Truman nationalized the mines and, in order to end the strike, hammered out a deal with UMWA President John Lewis and Interior Secretary Julius Krug that would guarantee coal miners certain benefits, like pensions and health care. That, to the miners and the UMWA, is the promise made that should be kept, but there are those who argue that the promise was not forever and not the government’s responsibility.

If you accept the premise that coal mining is a dinosaur industry that is dying a slow, tortuous death, quotes like this one from Jeremy Nichols, spokesman and director of climate and energy for Wild Earth Guardians are incendiary. When asked about the plight of coal miners in West Virginia (and elsewhere) Nichols said, “My initial response is tough shit…Keep it in the ground.” There is an obvious disconnect between the blue collar miners and the college-educated environmentalists who they see as a threat to their livelihood—even though the threats are far more wide-ranging.

The Wild Earth Guardians brought a suit in 2013 that threatened to shut down Colowyo and Trapper mines in Colorado, saying that the environment was “inadequately protected under the National Environmental Policy Act.” The mines were sued by the United States Office of Surface Mining.

Headlines in primarily Republican organs (“The Hill” was one) read: “Happy Birthday Clean Power Plan, Thanks for the Job Losses and Billions in Costs.” Another read: “Clean Power Plan: All Pain, No Gain for West Virginia” (The Hill). The same source made the dire prediction of 24,000 coal mining jobs displaced by the year 2020 blaming it all on EPA regulations and cited rising cost for electricity if coal were cut out of the power equation.

But the truth is that MANY factors play into the fall of coal as a power player. It is NOT just EPA guidelines that have put coal miners in the position of losing their pensions and their health care by Dec. 31, 2016.

The UMWA pension system is irreparably broken. No union members to pay in; no union money to pay out. “The looming insolvency is due to the precipitous drop in demand for coal in recent years…” say the experts. Union busting mine owners helped destroy the organization that had fought for workers at the turn of the century, and that began in earnest in 1984.

TODAY:

December 5, 2016:
Senate Democrats staged a last-ditch attempt to pass a stop-gap measure for miners who face the loss of their pensions and health care NOW (i.e., Dec. 31, 2016). Senate Bill #1714, the Miners Protection Act, was co-sponsored by Virginia senator Tim Kaine and it passed out of committee 18 to 8, with 8 Republican Senators voting with the Democrats to take millions earmarked for the cleaning up of abandoned mines and put it into a fund for displaced and retiring mine workers. Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for the bill included Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Mike Crapo (R, Idaho), Pat Roberts (R, Kansas), Richard Burr (R, NC), Rob Portman (R, Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R, PA). Saying “Congress, in my view, has an obligation to the Miners Protection Act” this group tried to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. But House Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has no love for the UMWA or President Obama, refused to allow a vote. (*Note: McConnell’s wife was just named Secretary of Transportation.)

Meanwhile, a variety of mining companies (Peabody, Freedom, Alpha Natural Resources) continue to file for bankruptcy and the courts have relieved the bankrupt companies of their obligation to pay retiree benefits. All of this hits home here in the Rust Belt when I think of the waning days of International Harvester, which went under and took many pensions with it.

Let’s also not forget how we all suffered financially in 2008 when the economy nearly collapsed and was rescued only in the nick of time by the stewardship of the incoming administration. Pension funds—like all of ours—took a hit then, too.

He’s not in Blood on the Mountain, but Joe Stowers, age 72, from DuQuoin, Illinois, a retired miner who worked 28 years, is thinking of coming out of retirement to try to find a job because, as many who were interviewed for “Blood on the Mountain” said, “I thought my tomorrow was safe. Apparently, it’s an entirely different story.” As of October 5th in a letter sent to 12,500 union members, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, have all told their union employees that their health care coverage will be lost on December 31, 2016 unless Congress acts. Following on the heels of those three companies are Walter Energy and Alpha National Resources, who have sent out letters announcing similar losses to miners in March and July of 2017.

In a December 9, 2016 article in Mother Jones, Katie Herzog wrote: “President elect Trump campaigned on bringing back those same coal miners’ jobs, through sorcery, perhaps. Someone is working to help miners, but it ain’t Trump—or many Republicans, for that matter.”

One coal miner quoted in this truly grim-but-important film says, “We’re like lepers. Put us in a colony and let us die off. We’re not losing it (the land); we’re sacrificing it for the good of mankind and we’re sick of it.”

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo’s Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.

Election Predictions for Presidential Race of 2016 on Nov. 8th, 3 a.m.

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Hillary is ahead roughly 44% to 40% on the eve of the 2016 election (Nov. 7, 2016). It also looks like Democrats have a very good chance of taking back the Senate, with only 2 votes in dispute and 50 that look like they’ll go Democratic (48 were in the Republican column with 2 in dispute as of this writing).
Congress is not as good a bet.
It seems now would be a good time to make a prediction about the presidential race. I’m not alone in thinking that Hillary Rodham Clinton will win. It was unfortunate in the extreme that FBI director James Comey, 9 days before the election, made some vague allusions to additional e-mails.
Then, just 2 days before the election, Comey tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Pulling a stunt like that is tantamount to your pregnant girlfriend announcing at the wedding reception, “Turns out I’m not pregnant after all.” Comey was also involved in the Whitewater Investigation, parts of Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings and has a long history of “investigating HRC.
So, we won’t know how much worse Trump’s defeat could and would have been without the assistance of Comey and Putin and the WikiLeaks hackers, but I still think she has a good shot at beating him silly, with over 300 electoral college votes, for sure.
Counties to watch, early on are:
1) Duval County in Florida, where Jacksonville is located. This county had 74,000 votes in ’08 and ’12.
2) Hillsborough County in Florida, where Tampa is located. There were 543,000 votes there in 2012 but there are more Hispanics registered this year than ever before.
3) Miami-Dade County. I got an urgent e-mail asking for money from Little Marco saying that the early voting by Hispanics was outpacing the Republicans. 541,000 Democratic votes were cast in 2012. Nevertheless, most analysts think Marco Rubio will hang on, which is unfortunate, since he doesn’t believe in global warming.
4) North Carolina: New Hanover County was lost by 92,000 votes in 2012. There are more Independent voters in Wilmington and New Henry Counties than there are registered Democrats or Republicans and this county will signal how Independents are breaking. Obama lost by 1.5% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2012.
Wade County is the state’s most populous county and Independents are up by 50,000 (24$) since 2012. Obama won by 56,000 (11 points) and, in Watauga, Obama won by 4% in 2008 and in 2012 he slipped 13% and lost by 3 percentage points.
5) Ohio: Belmont County is a county that Obama won in 2008, but lost in 2012. 90% of Belmont County is white, but NOT college educated, but working class whites. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, has many black voters. Obama won by 225,000 and 220,000 in his 2 runs, a 6% win.
6) Pennsylvania: Chester County (Philadelphia) has white, college-educated voters that gave Obama a 6 to 1 victory. Pennsylvania (Scranton) is also current Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown.

Last time there was a national election it was all wrapped up by 11 p.m. when Ohio went for Obama. Will it be as decisive (and early) this time?

My favorite predicting group (Moody’s Analytics) did not use polls to predict at all, but used different statistical indexes including:
1) The standing of the incumbent President, which should be favorable to Hillary since Obama’s are the highest since Reagan.

2) Gas prices. In my area, a gallon of gas goes for $2.05 right now and when we were in Texas you could purchase a gallon of gas for $1.44. In Des Moines at Sam’s Club yesterday it was $1.89. This bodes well for HRC, just as high gas prices were bad news for Carter in his re-election run.

3) Housing starts: How is the housing market doing? It seems to be on the upswing in Chicago and Austin with cranes everywhere, something that has been missing from the Chicago skyline since 2007/2008. Advantage Clinton.

4) Household income: it’s up slightly. In Illinois, federal employees are going to be paid $13 an hour, minimum. My friend in Des Moines said it was $10 per hour for ordinary jobs like Starbucks barrista. In Illinois the plan is to raise the minimum wage for everyone to $13 soon.

5) Unemployment measures: unemployment is under 5% whereas it had been above 7% back in the day.

All of the above support my contention (and nearly everyone else’s) that Hillary Rodham Clinton will become the first female President of the United States, God willing and the river don’t rise.

2016 Presidential Race Predictions on Nov. 8th, 2016

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate..

Hillary is ahead roughly 44% to 40% on the eve of the 2016 election (Nov. 7, 2016). It also looks like Democrats have a very good chance of taking back the Senate, with only 2 votes in dispute and 50 that look like they’ll go Democratic (48 were in the Republican column with 2 in dispute as of this writing).
Congress is not as good a bet.
It seems now would be a good time to make a prediction about the presidential race. I’m not alone in thinking that Hillary Rodham Clinton will win. It was unfortunate in the extreme that FBI director James Comey, 9 days before the election, made some vague allusions to additional e-mails.
Then, just 2 days before the election, Comey tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Pulling a stunt like that is tantamount to your pregnant girlfriend announcing at the wedding reception, “Turns out I’m not pregnant after all.” Comey was also involved in the Whitewater Investigation, parts of Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings and has a long history of “investigating HRC.
So, we won’t know how much worse Trump’s defeat could and would have been without the assistance of Comey and Putin and the WikiLeaks hackers, but I still think she has a good shot at beating him silly, with over 300 electoral college votes, for sure.
Counties to watch, early on are:
1) Duval County in Florida, where Jacksonville is located. This county had 74,000 votes in ’08 and ’12.
2) Hillsborough County in Florida, where Tampa is located. There were 543,000 votes there in 2012 but there are more Hispanics registered this year than ever before.
3) Miami-Dade County. I got an urgent e-mail asking for money from Little Marco saying that the early voting by Hispanics was outpacing the Republicans. 541,000 Democratic votes were cast in 2012. Nevertheless, most analysts think Marco Rubio will hang on, which is unfortunate, since he doesn’t believe in global warming.
4) North Carolina: New Hanover County was lost by 92,000 votes in 2012. There are more Independent voters in Wilmington and New Henry Counties than there are registered Democrats or Republicans and this county will signal how Independents are breaking. Obama lost by 1.5% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2012.
Wade County is the state’s most populous county and Independents are up by 50,000 (24$) since 2012. Obama won by 56,000 (11 points) and, in Watauga, Obama won by 4% in 2008 and in 2012 he slipped 13% and lost by 3 percentage points.
5) Ohio: Belmont County is a county that Obama won in 2008, but lost in 2012. 90% of Belmont County is white, but NOT college educated, but working class whites. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, has many black voters. Obama won by 225,000 and 220,000 in his 2 runs, a 6% win.
6) Pennsylvania: Chester County (Philadelphia) has white, college-educated voters that gave Obama a 6 to 1 victory. Pennsylvania (Scranton) is also current Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown.

Last time there was a national election it was all wrapped up by 11 p.m. when Ohio went for Obama. Will it be as decisive (and early) this time?

My favorite predicting group (Moody’s Analytics) did not use polls to predict at all, but used different statistical indexes including:
1) The standing of the incumbent President, which should be favorable to Hillary since Obama’s are the highest since Reagan.

2) Gas prices. In my area, a gallon of gas goes for $2.05 right now and when we were in Texas you could purchase a gallon of gas for $1.44. In Des Moines at Sam’s Club yesterday it was $1.89. This bodes well for HRC, just as high gas prices were bad news for Carter in his re-election run.

3) Housing starts: How is the housing market doing? It seems to be on the upswing in Chicago and Austin with cranes everywhere, something that has been missing from the Chicago skyline since 2007/2008. Advantage Clinton.

4) Household income: it’s up slightly. In Illinois, federal employees are going to be paid $13 an hour, minimum. My friend in Des Moines said it was $10 per hour for ordinary jobs like Starbucks barrista. In Illinois the plan is to raise the minimum wage for everyone to $13 soon.

5) Unemployment measures: unemployment is under 5% whereas it had been above 7% back in the day.

All of the above support my contention (and nearly everyone else’s) that Hillary Rodham Clinton will become the first female President of the United States, God willing and the river don’t rise.

Adventures from the New Computer Age

Well, because of the idea that installing a Windows 10 would be an “improvement,” I’ve been without ANY Internet service in Chicago since October 28th. A technician came out on a Saturday, but he needed access to a closet that is kept locked and can only be accessed by the building manager. (We have a building manager, but only Monday through Friday).

I was able to get a board member of the building to let us in, but more bad news awaited us in that he needed to “put a ticket in” to AT&T to do some sort of “upgrade” and, long story longer, he is coming back on November 14th to (hopefully) put an end to my computer woes at the condo and exponentially increase the speed of my new computer while reducing my bill by half. (I’ll believe THAT when it happens.) When he left, he didn’t make it clear that he had left me high and dry with no Internet AT ALL, so I was pretty much up a creek without a paddle unless I wanted to find a Starbucks. Since I was waiting on Deborah Riley Draper (director of “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”) to respond to my questions, I decided to wait until returning to East Moline, 3 and 1/2 hours away, to continue with movie reviews.

We were hanging around in Chicago during the World Series hysteria. (In fact, my son drove all the way to Cleveland from Pittsburgh and was present at the 7th game last night; ticket price $998; and my husband and son bought rooftop seats at Wrigley for Game #4 for $1008 apiece.) The priorities quickly shifted from movies to baseball and I’m not sure if we are driving back to Chicago now for the homecoming or what. (Keep in mind, Chicago has waited for over 100 years for this!)

I am now using my desktop (Windows 7) in the basement, since it is not involved in the upgrade (yet) or the slow speed I had always blamed on my Vista computer when it seems it may have been the fault of the building’s Internet provider not being as fast as possible. While I have a laptop, it was affected by the same issues in Chicago and it is a Windows 10, which I am still learning how to fully operate.

No, I do not currently like it, but that’s par for the course for me and new technology, which is ironic when you consider that I owned and operated a Prometric Testing Center (computers) from 1995 to 2003 (along with Sylvan Learning Center #3301 in Bettendorf, Iowa).

I just got home and working on “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice,” which is now up. It opens in December on HBO. I asked Deborah Riley Draper (its director) if it was “okay” to run with a review now and she was more than positive on that idea, but she also has not sent back her responses to my 10 questions and my last words to her were: “I’ll wait to hear from you to write up the film.”

I’ve now given up on “waiting” for her, so I can get on the review, and I’ll do “Heartstone: from the film festival, as well, and I may write something on “Hacksaw Ridge.”

So, it’s been All Baseball, All the Time here. The son and heir got roughly 3 hours of sleep after deciding on the spur of the moment to drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland for the game, with no ticket to get in. He then flew back home to Austin today and just called us from St. Louis.

Meanwhile, we will be flying to Austin on Nov. 15 to close on a house there that started being built for us in July. (No, we’re not selling the other 2).

Steve James Documentary Depicts Persecution of Abacus Bank in Chinatown

ffthroughdannyglover-025This is a saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family who own and run the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York’s Chinatown. I remember reading the Matt Taibbi investigative piece on this case when it came out, which is in his book “The Divide.” (Taibbi’s last investigative work gave birth to the film “War Dogs.”) As local Chinatown activist said, “This case is about an attack on a community. It’s about exonerating our entire community.”

Maybe this documentary resonated with me so much because I am the daughter of a scrupulously honest man who founded a bank in 1941, a bank that just celebrated its 75th anniversary October 7th. Maybe it’s because the specter of the accused Chinese tellers being linked together in a sort of “chain gang” fashion and led into court was so unnecessary, abhorrent and unfair. Maybe it’s because this bank had, at its core, a man of the highest integrity in his community, Thomas Sung.

Thomas Sung once had to go outside in the streets of Chinatown and reassure panicked customers when there was a run on his bank caused by the arrest of a teller at one of Abacus’ branches in the eighties. My father had to sit up all night with a shotgun inside the Fairbank, Iowa, bank when the banks crashed in 1939. Both men were scrupulously honest and were trying to do something good for their communities.

Vera Sung, Hwei Sung and Thomas Sung.

Vera Sung, Hwei Sung and Thomas Sung.

Thomas Hung had a successful practice as an immigration lawyer when he decided it would be helpful to his Chinese-American community to have a bank where they could secure loans so they could own their homes. Banks would take deposits from their Chinese customers, but they would not loan to them. Thomas’ wife, Hwei, has gone on record as not being in favor of founding the bank, but Thomas wanted to serve his community.

It is quite clear that the Sungs were being persecuted rather than prosecuted. You really root for David to beat Goliath and, although it took 5 years and $10 million, justice does prevail.

Abacus wrote 3,000 mortgages in a 5-year period; only 9 of those loans ever defaulted during a period in time when the foreclosure rate, nationwide, went up 555%.
As one expert witness says, “If every bank had underwritten as well as Abacus, we wouldn’t have had a financial crisis.” Only 30 loans sold to Fannie Mae by Abacus had faulty documents, and some of that occurred because Ken Yu falsified some documents using his Chinese name (Chi Ben Yu) when everyone in the bank knew him as “Ken.” (He also lied repeatedly on the stand, proven by tapes introduced.)

ffthroughdannyglover-014Talking with Producer Mark Mitten on the Red Carpet, I asked him how he became involved in the story.
(At the time he was a Producer in New York on TV’s “The Apprentice,” which got a big laugh when he admitted it during the Q&A after the documentary showed.) Mark said, “I knew the Sungs and they were trying to do something good for their community. I had known Vera Sung (one of the Sung daughters who worked in the bank and was also an attorney) for years. I was present through much of the trial and it just smacked of hypocrisy.” I threw in the term “scapegoat” and Mark Mitten vigorously agreed that the Sungs were intended to be the victims thrown under the bus by the U.S. government as token scapegoats. As he said during the Q&A that followed the screening, “This was an atrocity. The New York Times only wrote 2 stories about it: one when it began and one 5 years later when the trial ended.”

Mark Mitten read the Matt Taibbi investigative pieces and contacted Steve James, a Chicago native whose documentaries “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters” are well-known. As Director James told the audience, “There are 2 kinds of documentaries. One takes a position and one tries to remain neutral. This one takes the position that this prosecution was more a persecution and was a travesty. I’m dedicated to the idea that media can raise awareness. This is just an amazing story that no one knew about.”

On the night the film was shown, the Chicago Cubs were playing the second post-season game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Scanning the crowd, James agreed with the programming director about to introduce him that the ¾ full crowd was a pretty good showing and even told the crowd, “I’m glad there are no Cubs fans here tonight” to laughter. He also said, “I think the worst (audience) I ever had was in Santa Monica where I had about 10 people. One was a homeless guy who fell asleep. The cops frisked him and hauled him out during the Q&A.”

ffthroughdannyglover-024Nobody would be hauled out during this Q&A, nor would anyone fall asleep. Anyone with a heart will find this documentary inspirational, especially with Mr. and Mrs. Sung and their daughter Vera present. The Sungs took on the U.S. government and agreed to let the filmmakers record their decision to stand up and fight before knowing what the outcome of the trial would be.

Unlike the big bank players like Goldman Sachs (et. al.), the Sungs were not offered the opportunity to simply pay a fine and walk away.
This small bank—the 2,651th largest bank in the United States—was going to be used by New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. as an example. As a further irony, one of Thomas Sung’s attorney daughters, Chantelle (all are either lawyers or doctors) worked for Cyrus Vance at the time. She quit her job to help her family mount a defense against the unfair charges being leveled against them. The ordeal would last 5 years.

It all began with one rotten apple: a bank employee who was known popularly as Ken Yu, in December of 2009. Ken Yu was running a money laundering operation on his own and accepting money from loan applicants, telling them it was the “normal” when it was not. Not only did the Sungs fire Ken Yu immediately (and 2 other employees), they immediately reported his wrongdoing to the Office of Thrift Management when they learned that a couple who were trying to close on a home lost their 10% deposit because of Ken Yu’s dishonesty.

Rather than applaud the Sungs for honestly rooting out the very few corrupt employees and reporting those employees’ misdeeds, as they should have, Cyrus Vance, Jr., under pressure to do something to punish the big banks after the 2008 housing crisis, chose instead to lodge charges against this very small bank, accusing them of “engaging in a systematic scheme to defraud Fanny Mae.” As one expert said, “This wrongful prosecution was totally prejudiced and incorrect.”

“Why fight?” we might ask.

If convicted of even one felony, it would have very serious ramifications for the bank.
An innocent verdict gave the bank a shot at continuing, but it cost $10 million. $110 billion in fines was paid by the big banks as reparation for the $22 trillion damage their dishonesty did to our economy by writing $4.8 trillion in fraudulent mortgages, but this tiny bank and this one family was subjected to 5 years of persecution, required to be in court each day to clarify any of the 600,000 pages of documents they had to submit, and the Sung family and their innocent employees were humiliated.

Anyone who knows much about Asian cultures knows that “losing face” is one of the worst things that can happen. The U.S. government systematically attempted to humiliate this bank’s predominantly honest employees. One of them, in fact, is lodging a lawsuit against the government now that the trial is over.

Vera Sung, Hwei Sung and Thomas Sung.

Vera Sung, Hwei Sung and Thomas Sung.

\/>Standing in front of a Chicago audience this night, Thomas Sung (79) said “Our bank existed for 30 some years to serve the community. If we were just an ordinary bank, we could not have survived the run on the bank, etc…” He added, ruefully, “I help the people of our community become prosperous, but when they become prosperous, they move out of Chinatown and become customers of Citibank,” and then said, “We awakened the community to the fact that they need to be more conscious of their eligibility to vote and their need to exercise the rights given us.” He noted that 2 Chinatown residents have, in fact, run for office since the Sung family’s unfortunate experience.

Mr. Sung thanked the filmmakers saying, “For us, we are very thankful and we thought that it was a story that had to be told.” Mrs. Sung said, “It’s really strange to be standing here and to get my whole face back, meaning my honor and my integrity I’m so glad it’s over.”

“24 Weeks” Examines the Issue of Late-Term Abortion(s) in Germany at Chicago International Film Festival

The German film “24 Weeks” from Director Anne Zohra Berrached was screened in Chicago for 8 members of the press on Wednesday, October 5th. It is the story of a popular stand-up comedienne (think a German version of Amy Schumer) who finds herself pregnant by her live-in long-time love and manager, only to discover, several months into her pregnancy, that her unborn child will have both Down’s syndrome and a serious heart condition.

Movingly portrayed by German actress Julia Jentsch, this is not a “feel good” movie. Comedienne Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch) shows every sign of being a woman on the fast track to comedy success. Onstage, she even jokes, “You can tell a decent joke and lactate,” to an adoring audience.

That is all before the couple discovers the health problems their second child will face.

Astrid’s partner, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) wants to go to any lengths to have this second child, who will be a younger brother to their daughter, Nele (Emilia Pieschke). The couple is preparing to accept the Down’s Syndrome baby into their lives and visit similarly afflicted youngsters, taking their young daughter. Then their housekeeper, Kati, announces that she is not prepared to stay on and help them, and they turn to Astrid’s mother, who seems to be Astrid’s last hope.

Astrid’s manager and live-in love of 8 years, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) is very pro-life and wants to do everything to make this second child happen.
(“It feels wrong somehow to decide whether a human being lives or dies.”) Astrid (Julia Jentsch) is initially in synch with her spouse’s wishes.

But, as time goes on, she becomes more convinced that, as she explains to their young daughter, Nele (Emilia Piescke), “I don’t think he (the unborn fetus) will have a nice life.” Accusations come her way from Marcus that she is only thinking about her career and I honestly was waiting for the entire relationship to spiral out of control. (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” William Butler Yeats).

I was the only woman in the theater today watching “24 Weeks.”

I sensed outrage amongst the male critics present when the hospital authorities told the frustrated father of the child, “In Germany, ultimately it’s your wife’s decision. That’s the law.” Markus (the prospective father) rails against any talk of a late-term abortion, which would be achieved by injecting potassium chloride into the fetus’ heart, after which the mother would go into labor and give birth to a dead child. Markus tells Astrid, “You can’t do it. Nothing else matters.”

This is a film about life-altering decisions and the people who have to make them.

It is extremely well acted and well written (also by director Anne Zohra Berrached). The topic is still an ongoing debate in this country and will continue to be after the upcoming election. Abortion and capital punishment are always “hot button” issues; that will probably always be the case.

And, no, I won’t tell you what Astrid decides to do.

That really would be a “spoiler.”

Page 1 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén