Five Broken Cameras

5 Broken Cameras“By healing, you resist oppression.” That is what Emad Burnat learned after six years of filming the nonviolent resistance of the people of the West Bank village of Bil’in. They were working to remove an Israeli fence and get back their stolen land. In his film Five Broken Camera, he tells his story. It is personal film making, more like Sherman’s March than Harlan County, USA. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is Sherman’s March set inside Harlan County, USA. And that is its brilliance.

The politics of the film is very clear, and in many ways the least interesting part of the film. A lot of things are very clear in the film. The Palestinians and the Israelis are the same people. Culturally, they are almost identical. Watching the conflict is like watching a family feud. Unfortunately, it is a feud where one side of the family has a really powerful army. What’s also clear is that many of the Israelis have dehumanized the Palestinians. What they are doing to these people is unconscionable. I understand that the Israelis are fearful; I understand that there is a lot of history; I understand that Palestinians haven’t always been the best partners. (Nor have the Israelis, but that’s another matter.) But do these Palestinians in Bil’in deserve this? It doesn’t seem like it.

The Personal and the Political

The film simultaneously chronicles the resistance movement and the development of Burnat’s youngest son, Gibreel. Through the early years, Gibreel doesn’t have much access to the protests. Then he begins seeing them from afar. He admits to his mother that he is afraid. In fact, there are many times during the film that Burnat tells his son to not be afraid of the Israeli soldiers; they are everywhere. But then Burnat’s good friend Phil, who is beloved by all the local children, is shot and killed. Gibreel is sad and angry. He asks his father why he doesn’t kill the soldiers with a knife. His father asks him why he is angry and his son replies, “Because they killed Phil.” It isn’t hard to see where the anger comes from. Phil was killed while nonviolently protesting.

During the course of the film, Burnat is arrested twice. Once, he is jailed for a long time. And this is the interesting part: it is never clear why. What he lives under is marshal law. The military apparently arrest people just because they have crossed some vague line of annoyance. One of Burnat’s arrest is for allegedly throwing rocks. They eventually drop charges because they “lost” the evidence. A lot of people seem to be arrested for this charge, because it is the one concrete thing the military has: kids, especially, do throw rocks. But this illustrates very nicely the entire Israel-Palestine conflict. Palestinians are arrested for throwing rocks at the soldiers. The soldiers have body armor, tear gas, and semiautomatic rifles. And when they use these weapons, nothing seems to happen to them. The law, it seems, is only meant for some.

Beyond Politics: Five Broken Camera

Five Broken Camera ends with a poignant scene. Burnat has at last gotten what looks like a hundred staples removed from his chest due to an accident he was in. Afterward, since they are in Israel, they go to the beach. Gibreel is seen happily splashing around in the water. Burnat asks him, “Why are you so happy?” And he replies, “The sea!” It is the last line in the film. Despite everything, we live our lives. There is happiness and pain. There is love and hatred. And sometimes, if we are very lucky, there is an afternoon at the sea.

Obama Talks About Himself

Obama Question MarkMost of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance.

—Barack Obama, without a hint of irony
The Audacity of Hope

Avik Roy: Healthcare Apologist

Avik RoyAvik Roy was on Up with Chris Hayes this morning. He is something of a healthcare expert. But you know what “expert” means when it comes to a conservative: effective apologist for the status quo. And he didn’t miss a beat this morning. He started right out cherry picking studies that showed that having Medicaid is worse than having no insurance at all. Hooray for the broken US healthcare system!

The problem, of course, is that Roy and his corporate friends don’t think, “Medicaid has problems, let’s fix it!” Instead, it is, “Medicaid has problems, let’s kill it!” This is what you get when your guiding philosophy is that the poor are morally repellent and so should just be allowed to die. (This is not an unfair characterization. Conservatives want the poor to just go away. I’m not suggesting they want to do it with a gun. But depriving them of healthcare is the same result by different means.)

Last week, Roy and Douglas Holtz-Eakin wrote an article for Reuters, The Future of Free-Market Healthcare. In it, they claim that maybe Obamacare isn’t that bad, but they would like to make some changes that will make it truly a free-market system. And so they pull out Switzerland and claim that we should be more like them.

Aaron Carroll, the medical economist, took them to task on this argument. He concludes, “I don’t think the Swiss health care system is what they think it is.” They claim that the Swiss system is better because it doesn’t have a public option. This doesn’t make any sense at all. First: neither does the United States! How does that make it more free-market than America? What’s more, Carroll points out that they are wrong on this point even still. The Swiss system requires private insurance companies to provide non-profit healthcare products. In other words, “Yeah, they effectively have a public option.”

Next, the dynamic duo claims that the Obamacare state exchanges are terrible because they are “larded with costly mandates and regulations.” Carroll really doesn’t like this bit of chicanery:

Do they know that the Swiss health care system has an individual mandate? Do they know that the Swiss health care system has arguably more regulations, such that they can’t even charge a 25 year old and an 80 year old a different price (like you can in Obamacare)? Do they know that the Swiss health care system regulates drug prices and fees for lab tests and medical devices? Do they know the most someone can pay for insurance in Switzerland is 8% of income (which is less than Obamacare allows)?

There are other problems. But the biggest problem is their claim that the Swiss healthcare system is cheaper than the American system because—Wait for it!—it is more free-market. Carroll points out that it is cheaper because doctors get paid about half as much there. On top of this, Paul Krugman reported that they were greatly underestimating the cost of the Swiss System, because so much of it is private. This is an old conservative claim: if we don’t pay for Medicaid, we’ll save money! Well, the government will save money; the country will end up paying far more.

Look at the following graph from Krugman’s first article about the Holtz-Eakin and Roy paper:

Healthcare Costs By Country

Do you notice something interesting in this chart? The only country that pays more for their healthcare than Switzerland is the United States. And despite this, Switzerland is ranked 20th by the WHO.

Take a moment to think about this. Avik Roy and all his pals are committed to a particular form of healthcare. What works well is not the issue at all. The only thing that matters is to keep corporate profits high. Note: this isn’t about giving the rich the best healthcare available. They will always have that. Even in countries like France, the rich can still buy private insurance. The problem from the standpoint of Roy is that all his buddies might make a few dollars less. And when you compare a couple of dollars in profit for the already wealthy to tens of millions of people without access to healthcare, the conservative answer is clear: the dollars matter far more than the people. Because, hey, the people are poor; they don’t matter at all.

Update (23 February 2013 4:12 pm)

In the segment Now We Know, Avik Roy talks about how even with Obamacare there will be 30 million people without healthcare. As I recall, it is now looking like it will be a lot less than that. The main problem is that there will be a lot of people who will qualify for it, but won’t know it. Regardless, when Roy said that, he seemed like he was going to burst out laughing. I often have conversations with conservatives who now complain that Obamacare is (1) too complicated and (2) non-universal. This is rich! It is exactly because of conservatives like Avik Roy that we have a system that is (1) too complicated and (2) non-universal. At this point, it seems that Roy is thrilled that his dastardly plan worked so that he now has a “multi-year project for us to try to make the case to conservatives that actually universal coverage is the path to getting our fiscal ship in balance.” I’m sure it will be very lucrative at the same time it won’t provide a single person with healthcare.

Political Poetry

Confidence FairyI’m not Calvin Trillin, but I’ve written a couple of political poems recently. The first sums up the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the conservative movement. As you may recall, reproductive rights were more a Republican issue around the time of Roe V. Wade. And in the 1950s, voting rights were at least widely supported in the party. But the Republican Party has been committed to the interests of the rich in modern times. This has meant that they’ve been forced to make some unholy alliances. In the 1960s, it was with racists (although it took a while to pry that voting block away from the Democrats). In the 1970s, it was with the Christian fundamentalists.

Republican Coalition

Give those tax cuts to the rich
Show war mongers your big dicks
Pander to the racist hicks
Vaginal probes for all the chicks!

This next one I wanted to do with illustrations, but it was not to be. I also thought I would make it longer. You’ll get the idea. It is about the Confidence Fairy. This is a mythical creature that Paul Krugman invented. It is based on the belief of austerians and other assorted Deficit Scolds who claim that balancing the federal budget will instill confidence in the markets and cause growth. It is a nice idea, but the economy just doesn’t work that way, as the last 4 years have shown throughout the world. Krugman claimed that these people believed in the Confidence Fairy who (like the Great Pumpkin) will magically appear to reward good economies who balance their budgets.

The Confidence Fairy

The Confidence Fairy
Her powers will shock
Bond rates sink lower
She’ll goose up your stock!

She makes businesspeople
Regain confidence
Their non-hiring ways
They learn to repent.

She pours fairy dust
In all shoppers’ eyes
No longer afraid
They shop till they die!

The Confidence Fairy
She may be a myth
But she’s still effective
At helping the rich.

That’s all for now kiddos. As usual: if you don’t like the content, you get your full money back! And if you want to read real poetry, why are you here? Go over to The Good Typist.

The Oreo Felon

Penny WintersThis is a picture of Penny Winters. I always wonder about these things. It is a “mug shot.” And yet, Ms. Winters has been convicted of no crime. But somehow, the “justice” system seems to think it is just fine to release her photo to the world.

I present her photo to you as an example of an entirely typical victim of our fascistic corporate welfare injustice system. This 63 year old woman is facing felony theft charges for eating multiple unauthorized cookies while working at Walmart. Most recently, the management caught her eating Oreos. But if Walmart is like places I’ve worked, the management is busy going over months of video tape to see just exactly how many cookies the felonious Walmart employee ate. Is it any wonder that Walmart’s profits slipped from $16.4 billion in 2011 to $15.7 billion in 2012?!

In all seriousness, what Ms. Winters allegedly did was wrong. But such “leakage” is common and accepted. If her total cookie intake raised her cost to the company by as much as 1%, I would be surprised. Walmart’s profits are falling because people like Winters don’t have as much money to spend at places like Walmart. And a high profile felony prosecution of an employee for filching some cookies is not going to do anything to improve their bottom line.

This is justice in the United States. Winters could go to prison for years for her crime. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for a single banker to go to jail for their fraudulent games that caused the current depression. I’m so very proud.

And the la-hand of the Freeeeee!
And the hoooome, of thhhhhe, braaaave!