Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Corporate Citizenship: Equifax's Three Amigos

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
It's been a real drag learning that I was one of the estimated 140 Americans whose personal information was "compromised" in the Equifax data hack that was revealed two weeks ago.

To be honest I still don't exactly know what "compromised" even means in terms of who actually stole my data, where it's being stored and what, if anything, the hackers who stole it intend to do with it.

After reading about what is now considered one of the largest data breaches in history, I went to the Equifax Website to enter my name and six digits of my Social Security number and quickly learned my information was part of that gargantuan cybertheft.

Like I didn't have enough on my plate to begin with - the Equifax Website said they would mail me details about my compromised data but I still haven't gotten it.

I wonder if any of the three senior Equifax executives (including the chief financial officer John Gamble) who collectively sold off about $2 million of their company stock just before announcing the data breach, had their personal data stolen?

Somehow I doubt it, but you never know, there may be justice in the world.

As Vox reported on Monday investigations into the remarkably-timed stock sale and data breach have been announced by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and various Congressional committees.

Now I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for the conservatively-tilted federal government to use it's power to slap down any corporation, let alone Equifax, an Atlanta-based company with 9,500 employees that "collects and aggregates information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million companies worldwide" according to their Website.

Got Equifax stock? Joe Loughran, Rodolfo Ploder
and John Gamble certainly don't
Want a good chuckle? Check out the Equifax page on Corporate Citizenship.

Instead of a photo of CEO Rick Smith, they ought to have a photo of those three shysters who dumped their stock before revealing that the personal data of almost half of the U.S. population was swiped; CFO John Gamble, president of U.S. information Joseph M. Loughran III and president of workforce solutions Rodolfo O. Ploder.

Oh and the stock price has tanked by about 35% since the announcement on September 8th of a massive data breach they all knew about back in July - so the three amigos collectively saved themselves about $700,000.

Would you believe that Equifax has five different presidents in their corporate leadership?

That's a lot of presidents for such an appalling lack of oversight, ethics and accountability.

Lest we forget, remember when Senator Ted Cruz and Representative John Ratcliffe (both Texas Republicans) introduced legislation that would eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau back in February?

With over $3 billion in revenue in 2016 and their brand and reputation rapidly sinking into the shitter, my guess is that Equifax has already dispatched lobbyists up to Capitol Hill to get their meathooks into members of Congress before the villagers begin storming the castle with torches and pitchforks.

Anyway, let's hope the wheels of justice turn more positively for the 140 millions Americans who've been affected by the Equifax data breach than they did for Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis.

Well that's all I have time for tonight, I have to get back to trying to initiate a credit freeze on the Equifax Website.

Wish that was as easy as dumping Equifax stock.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Wheels of Acquittal Turn Again

Cops & protestors in St. Louis on Friday after former
SLPD officer Jason Stockley's acquittal
[Photo - Theo Welling]
Given the protests and civil unrest that have rocked the city of St. Louis in recent days, former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley is arguably one of the most despised individuals in the state right now.

The crowds of people who took to the streets in protest after St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Stockley not guilty of murder for the 2011 shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith represented a wide cross-section of the local community.

Young and old. Black, white, Hispanic and Asian, people of different faiths.

All understandably confused and outraged over what is widely viewed as a gross miscarriage of justice in a state still recovering from the aftermath of the protests over the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by 28-year-old former Ferguson PD officer Darren Wilson in the nearby northeastern suburb of Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

The similarities are startling.

In both cases, young white male police officers used deadly force in broad daylight after pursuing young male African-American suspects fleeing police after allegedly being involved in relatively low level felonies - Brown had reportedly robbed a local convenience store and Smith was allegedly selling heroin in a parking lot behind a fast-food chicken spot.

Both former officers used handguns against unarmed suspects based on what they both claimed was self defense, Brown and Wilson were engaged in some kind of physical struggle through the window of Wilson's police car before he fired twelve shots at Brown.

Smith sped off in his Buick in an attempt to flee, about 45 seconds before the high-speed, one-mile chase ended, then-officer Stockley was heard on the police SUV's internal video camera saying "going to kill this motherfucker, don't you know it."

Former St. Louis PD officer Jason Stockley
As the Huffington Post reported, Stockley ordered his partner Brian Bianchi to use their police SUV to ram Smith's vehicle to stop it.

Stockley got out holding his personal AK-47 assault rifle (which is not permitted by department regulations) with his department-issued pistol in his holster.

About 15 seconds after reaching the driver's side of Smith's Buick, Stockley ordered Smith to put his hands up - the driver's side air bag in Smith's car had deployed when the police SUV rammed it.

Stockley then removes his police pistol from his holster and fires five shots into the car, killing Smith - he claimed Smith was reaching for a gun.

But what's strange is that Stockley then walks back to the police SUV - remember he just shot a man.

Both a bystander's cell phone video and internal video cameras in the police SUV show Stockley open the back door and put his personal AK-47 rifle on the back seat, then he returns to Smith's car.

Then, the same cameras show Stockley walk back to the SUV a second time, and this time he's clearly seen rifling around in his personal backpack before emerging, going back to Smith's car and getting into the driver's seat after other officers remove Smith's body from the car.

It's there that prosecutors claim he planted the .38 revolver found in Smith's car - if Smith had tried to use that gun, why was Stockley's the only DNA found on it?

Take a couple minutes to look at the video of Stockley - watch it for yourself, both the bystander's cellphone video and the internal police SUV video are synchronized next to each other.

I estimate he's rifling around in his backpack for about 17 seconds, notice how he positions and hunches his body so that the internal police SUV camera can't show what he's doing.

But again, as in the case of Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown in 2014, Stockley claimed he had no choice but to use deadly force against Anthony Lamar Smith because he was in fear for his life - but like Wilson, the only real evidence that he was in fear for his life is his own testimony.

No charges were ever filed against Darren Wilson in Ferguson, and it took five years before Jason Stockley was charged with murder - ending in an acquittal last week.

St. Louis PD officers knock an old woman who was
protesting to the ground before stepping on her
The police reaction to the subsequent protests by members of the local community and activists was similar too.

The heavily-militarized police response in Ferguson, including armored vehicles, was widely condemned around the world.

In St. Louis as people began engaging in peaceful protests on Friday, police responded by showing up in riot gear including helmets, shields and batons.

An older female protester was knocked to the ground and stepped on by cops.

It's pretty troubling given that she was exercising her 1st Amendment rights to protest against what many see as a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

That kind of authoritarian response certainly stands in contrast to the police response in Charlottesville, Virginia a few weeks ago when local and state police basically stood there and watched as Neo-Nazi, KKK members and alt-right nitwits, many of whom were openly carrying assault rifles and handguns, marched past - white supremacist protester 52 year-old Richard Wilson Preston shot a handgun directly into the crowd and nearby police did nothing.

My sense is that the acquittal of Jason Stockley and the subsequent response by police is what largely fueled a small fraction of the hundreds of peaceful protestors to throw rocks and paint at the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson's home late Friday night - which prompted police to use tear gas to disperse crowds.

The frustration of protesters, activists and human rights advocates is also compounded by the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already made clear that under his oversight, the Department of Justice will not use its authority to investigate local police departments for racially-biased policing, violations of citizen's Constitutional rights or excessive use of deadly force.

It all seems to point to a White House and Justice Department that tacitly reinforces a two-tier system of justice and a polarizing view of race in this country.

Ms. Texas Margana Wood: not a Trumper
A nation in which we now have a president who vents outrage and fury depending upon the race and ethnicity of the person involved.

For example, both Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spent much of last week directing anger at black ESPN anchor Jemele Hill and the sports network after she called Trump a white supremacist on her personal Twitter account.

Frankly their self-righteous indignation was laughable considering Trump's habitual crude insults and serial misogyny.

In contrast, after Ms. Texas (who is white) Margana Wood publicly called Trump out at the Ms. America pageant last Sunday night - when asked about his response to the Charlottesville protests, she rebuked him for not making a more definitive statement deploring white supremacy.

Trump said nothing about her comments.

Much like his radio silence when white Americans commit acts of terrorism on people of color or Muslims, but when a terrorist linked with ISIS commits an act of violence, his Twitter feed blows up.

But to get back to my original point, it's pretty clear that the protests in St. Louis are about much more than another white police officer once again facing no legal repercussions for shooting an unarmed African-American motorist.

The protests are also a reaction to complacency and lack of leadership on issues of racial injustice by the federal government and people's impatience and frustration that the same racial bias still permeates the judicial system in St. Louis three years after the events in Ferguson.

Judge Timothy Wilson
As Jeremy Stahl reported for Slate on Friday, Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson's justifications for acquitting Jason Stockley outlined in his 30-page opinion are pretty shaky, he almost seems to be reaching for a reason to acquit the former St. Louis PD officer - despite a planted gun that doesn't have the victim's DNA on it and video that shows clear premeditation to kill.

Over the past few days I've spent some time reading people's reactions to the case on social media, and it's interesting to see how individual perspectives seem to break down along the same political and ideological divisions that are parroted in progressive and conservative media.

Some people's resentment is directed at the protesters, expressing the opinion that Jason Stockley's fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith was justified simply because he fled the police.

In my view if the guy was selling heroin, fine, then arrest him, charge him and let a court find him guilty and sentence him accordingly.

But for Stockley to act as judge, jury and executioner for a low-level felony, then plant a gun to justify murder violates the principles of law enforcement and the Constitution.

There's no "many sides" on that issue, there is only right and wrong.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Columbus Revisited & The Real Uncivilized Tribe

Hands on the statue of Columbus painted red to
symbolize his violent treatment of indigenous peopls
It's not really clear why the as-yet unidentified vandal defaced a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus on the east side of Central Park near east 65th street on Tuesday morning.

But it doesn't come as a surprise in these divisive times.

Columbus' statuesque hands were painted red to highlight his brutal treatment of the indigenous peoples that he encountered after initially landing in the Bahamas in 1492 on the first of his four trans-Atlantic voyages on behalf of the Spanish crown.


When I was in elementary school, the textbooks we used generally touted Columbus as the man who "discovered America"; an assertion now known to be inaccurate.

Advances in modern archaeology techniques, new technology (like the wide availability of detailed topographical satellite imagery to uncover previously hidden ruins) and extensive research have revealed that in America at least, Columbus has gotten credit for something he didn't actually do.

The discovery of ancient Norse settlements near the Canadian coast in Newfoundland confirms that the explorer Lief Erikson and his fellow Vikings reached North America in 1000 A.D. (and stayed there for at least a year) almost 500 years before Columbus reached the Caribbean.

Some researchers have even suggested the Muslim Chinese explorer Zheng He, born in 1371, may have reached the west coast of America sometime in the early 15th century.

Portrait of Leif Erikson by Arturas Slapsys
With the discovery of scientific evidence showing that humans migrated across the Bering Strait to parts of the northwestern coast of America as far back as 14,000 years ago (far earlier than scientific evidence previously indicated), it's possible ancient explorers reached North America long before Leif Erikson arrived in Newfoundland by navigating boats along the coastline from Siberia to America.

But don't get me wrong, as a navigator and explorer, Columbus and his men certainly had chutzpah sailing west into uncharted seas.

Their having survived the voyage at all is a reflection of their seamanship and courage.

There's no question that they deserve credit for helping to change the course of human history by opening the gates of the Caribbean and Central and South America up to European exploration and colonization.

But one of the byproducts of Columbus sailing west to find a viable route to Asia and inadvertently stumbling upon the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and, eventually, an existing continent, is that it would lead to the systematic genocide of millions of indigenous peoples and lead to the kidnapping and enforced labor of millions of Africans via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade over the course of hundreds of years.

So while I can understand why many Italian-Americans (including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) are miffed over the defacing of the statue of Columbus in Central Park, frankly I'm one of those people who remain puzzled about why there are statues of this man in the first place.

After being appointed Viceroy and Governor of what was inaccurately then called the "Indies", historical records show that Columbus' period of leadership on behalf of the Spanish crown was marked by tyranny, savage torture, slavery, murder and nepotism until he was replaced as Governor by Francisco de Bobadilla in 1500.

Portrait of Christopher Columbus 
According to a 2013 article in The Guardian about a 48-page report compiled by Bobadilla at the behest of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who ordered investigations into allegations of Columbus' tyranny, the explorer once congratulated his brother Bartolome´ for having had a woman paraded naked through the streets on the back of a mule and having her tongue cut out for suggesting that Columbus was "of lowly birth."

In all fairness to the popular culture that ascribed a kind of mythical status to Columbus, that  48-page report (supposedly...) wasn't uncovered until recently.

So the folks who wrote songs about him, built statues of him, or dedicated a national holiday in his name may not have lent a whole lot of consideration to how he conducted himself and treated indigenous peoples once he arrived in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Was Columbus "evil" as some suggest? Not in my view.

Though he clearly did some pretty twisted things to other people in the name of profit, empire and the Catholic faith - and of course set the stage for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Personally I think he was a man of the times, an ambitious individual engaged in the enterprise of colonization to enhance the power, prestige and territory of (and channel financial profit to) the major European powers of the time - as well as the influence of the Catholic Church.

But just like the recent outcry against the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate generals and leaders, the defacing of the Columbus statue in Central Park is just the latest example of high profile non-violent protests challenging widely-held, and frequently incomplete, assumptions about history.

In some ways, the legacy of Columbus is still with us here in the 21st century.

Members of an uncontacted Amazon tribe fire arrows at
an aircraft flying over their settlement in 2008
On Sunday Shasta Darlington wrote an interesting article in the New York Times about a group of gold miners in a remote part of the Amazon who allegedly killed 10 members of a tribe of indigenous people never known to have made contact with the outside-modern world.

According to the article the killings took place when the miners encountered the members of the tribe gathering eggs along a river in the remote Javari Valley in western Brazil.

A federal prosecutor has begun an investigation into the killings.

The Amazon encompasses 2.6 million square miles and over 4,000 miles of rivers snake through what makes up an astounding 40% of the planet's remaining rain forest - within that territory there are still tribes that have never made contact with the outside world or modern society.

As Dan James Pantone reported in an article about the Brazilian government's decision to publish ariel photographs of a previously unknown tribe known only as the Cabellos Largos or "Long Haired People"; shown in the photo above trying to fire arrows at an aircraft that was flying over their settlement in 2008.

According to Pantone's article, another Amazon tribe known as the Matse´s had reported encountering members of the Cabellos Largos in seasonal camps located in the remote Javari River Valley near Brazil and Peru - but apparently the Brazilian government kept the photographs (and existence) of the tribe secret until 2008.

As the photograph above shows, the men dye their bodies red, and the women dye their bodies black - a tradition practiced in some ceremonial events by other Amazon tribes in Brazil and Peru.

To me it's an absolute travesty that a bunch of gold miners would kill members of an indigenous tribe (they reportedly bragged about doing it at a bar), just consider what they might know about native plants or species, or what we could learn about human evolution and behavior.

Charley Boorman & the late Powers Boothe in
John Boorman's 1985 film The Emerald Forest 
But whatever specifically happened to cause this slaughter, at the core, it was the intrusion of "modern society" into a pristine natural landscape inhabited by a people whose way of life may not have changed in thousands of years - it's just as tragic now as it was when Columbus arrived in 1492.

It's hard to put into words, but to me there is something powerful, mysterious, humbling and deeply spiritual about tribes that have never made contact with civilization existing in the modern world.

On a more positive note, there a couple of really good films that portray that conflict between modern man and "unknown" tribes that may have remain unchanged since the Stone Age.

Given that the excellent actor Powers Boothe recently passed away, it might be a good time re-watch (or see for the first time) director John Boorman's visually stunning 1985 film The Emerald Forest - check out Holcomb B. Noble's excellent review of the film in the New York Times which also offers some fascinating insight into the making of the movie as well.

I'm a huge fan of Boorman's Arthurian legend movie Excalibur (which I saw in the theater in Bethesda, Maryland with my younger brother when it came out) and I also saw The Emerald Forest when it came out as well; and went on to rent it on video many times.

It's based on a true story of a Venezuelan engineer whose 7-year old son was kidnapped by members of an indigenous tribe in 1972 - the man spent a decade searching the rain forest for his son.

Daryl Hannah and Tom Berenger in the 1991 film
At Play In the Fields Of the Lord
When he finally found him, the boy had totally integrated into the tribe and his father made the decision to let him live out his life in the jungle.

Boorman's version of the touching story is amazing, it's a really underrated film from the 1980's with a cool soundtrack that offers a glimpse of the way "civilized" man infringes on the life of indigenous tribes in the Brazilian and Peruvian rainforest.



Now if you want a somewhat darker take on that same conflict and you've never seen it, I highly recommend the exceptional 1991 film At Play In the Fields of the Lord, an adaptation of the novel by Peter Matthiessen directed by Hector Babenco.

At Play in The Fields of the Lord revolves around a group of well-meaning, but sadly somewhat delusional American Christian missionaries who come to the remote Amazon interior to spread the Gospel to an indigenous tribe called the Niaruna.

It's a brilliant cast that includes Aidan Quinn, John Lithgow, Daryl Hannah, Kathy Bates, Tom Waits and Tom Berenger.

In one of his best on-screen roles, Berenger plays a half-Cheyenne American bush pilot named Lewis Moon hired to help bomb indigenous people's remote village to drive them from their home so gold miners can move in.

Adian Quinn and Kathy Bates as missionaries
in At Play In the Fields of the Lord
But with his conscience troubling him, Moon gets drunk one night and takes a powerful indigenous hallucinogen and takes off in his plane, while circling the indigenous village as he's tripping, he parachutes out of the plane.

The story follows his introduction to the tribe and eventual transformation into a full-fledged member, and the deterioration of missionary couple Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah who come to recognize that life in the remote rainforest is not what they thought.

And dangerous to their young son.

Their struggle to hold on to their faith and mission as their relationship dissolves is pretty gripping.

At Play In the Fields of the Lord is not for the faint of heart, the violence against the indigenous peoples is pretty graphic, it raises challenging questions about Christian missionaries and self-doubt about faith - and the story takes its time developing - it runs a whopping three hours and nine minutes.

But as a meditation on the search for redemption and self-discovery, the meaning of organized religion and the themes of  Man Versus Nature and Man Versus Man - it's really worth it.

If you happen to be one of the those people fuming about the hands of Columbus' statue being painted red, I'd suggest you watch both these films and think about his legacy in the Americas.

Columbus does have blood on his hands, but he's not the only one - those of us who consume material goods without considering the consequences of climate change and burn fossil fuels without thinking about the impact on the natural environment and the indigenous peoples who live there, have a hand in that too.

As The Emerald Forest and At Play In the Fields of the Lord both demonstrate, the accoutrements that often define "civilized society" are merely masks that hide the truth of who the real uncivilized tribe really is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Strange Fruit In New Hampshire? Contrition In Iowa

Baseball dugout at Quackenbush recreational field
in Wellsville, NY a day after Trump's election 2016
Now if you recall it was just about this time last year as the 2016 presidential campaign was headed into the final weeks before the November elections that some pretty disturbing reports started emerging from elementary, middle, high schools and colleges across the nation.

Schools being defaced with Nazi imagery, like my old elementary school Burning Tree Elementary in Bethesda, MD.

A detestable moment for America.

Racist graffiti scrawled on the walls of school buildings, bathrooms and hallways.

In the ten days after Trump's election in 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded at least 867 different incidents of harassment or intimidation based on race or ethnicity around the U.S.

For the most part, conservative news outlets and commentators tended to dismiss and minimize the impact and seriousness of these ugly incidents of racial and ethnic hatred and violence (stirred up by the divisive campaign of the orange-haired guy who pledged to Make America Great Again) as isolated examples of reactionary fringe-dwellers seizing the moment to express their internalized bigotry.

But as an article by Ben Thompson in the Boston Globe earlier today about racist graffiti found in the bathroom of Needham Elementary School on Monday demonstrates, it's still happening.

Another insidious hallmark of the Trump election in 2016 was that nooses intentionally began appearing in some schools again.

Casandra Merlin's 8-year-old biracial son's neck
after a 14-YO hung him from a noose
These vestiges of racial and ethnic terrorism were left in classrooms, lockers, or outdoor recreational areas to taunt, insult or intimidate African-American students.

Truly disturbing attempts to resurrect a dark and deadly chapter of America's past.

Sadly, that's still happening too.

As many news outlets have reported, recently at least one 14-year-old teenager in Claremont, New Hampshire allegedly took that a step further.

After Casandra Merlin's 8-year-old biracial son was taunted with racial epithets before a group of kids started throwing rocks at his legs, the as-yet unnamed teenager put a rope from an old tire swing around his neck and pushed him off a picnic table.

According to his grandmother, the teenager and other as-yet unidentified teens simply watched him swing back and forth three times until the boy was able to somehow remove or untangle the noose from his neck and escape.

As Angela Helm observed in an article about the incident posted on TheRoot.com on Sunday, despite growing national interest in the case, the Claremont, NH police chief Mark Chase is thus far denying media requests for more information on the investigation into what happened.

Even though it was the as-yet unnamed 8-year-old boy who was hung from a tree by his neck, the police chief seemed unusually concerned about the impact the media attention would have on the reputations and futures of the teens who allegedly committed this act.

Chase told reporters: "Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life." 

Nor should their age excuse them from responsibility for participating in a hate crime.

Claremont, NH police chief Mark Chase
In her article Helm pointed out:

"Notice how he called these predators 'young children', infantilizing the white teens. Conversely, teens like Trayvon Martin are made out to be hulking, menacing adults."

According to an article on Boston.com, after coming under increased media scrutiny and public pressure, sometime Monday night the police chief committed to investigate the incident as a hate crime but refused to give any more details because the kids involved are in their teens.

Earlier this afternoon a local NBC affiliate reported that Governor Chris Sununu and Rep. Annie Kuster have both released statements condemning the incident.


If it was a "mistake" as Chase suggested it certainly was a whopper.

Speaking of youthful "mistakes", did you hear about those five teenagers from Creston High School in Iowa who were shown in a photo burning a cross while wearing what appear to be KKK hoods while one held what appeared to be a rifle with a scope and another held what looks like a Confederate flag?

According to a Des Moines Register article posted last Friday, school officials decided to take disciplinary action against the students after the photo reportedly appeared last Wednesday morning.

Given the reaction of Creston Community School District administrators and members of the community, I don't think it's fair to characterize what these five knuckleheads did as representative of the town of Creston, or Iowa for that matter.

Creston, Iowa teens burning a cross
But I am personally troubled by the deeper question of what prompted them to do such a thing in the first place.

Did they have a few beers and decide it would be a gag or some kind of joke?

Or are they among the disturbing numbers of young white boys and men who've become "self radicalized" by the plethora of right-wing extremism online propagated by the alt-right community?

Was this some kind of juvenile reaction to what happened in Charlottesville?

According to Census data, in 2010 the population of Iowa was about 88.7% white and about 2.9% black or African-American.

So I really cant' see five white teenagers from Creston, Iowa (population 7,289) feeling racially marginalized - but maybe they do.

If I was a betting man I'd wager they were buying into some kind of distorted reality being peddled online by the community of alt-right bigots who find solace and courage in anonymity - and a sense of legitimacy from Trump.

Whatever their reasons their actions have certainly brought them back into reality quickly, and I as think back on my time as a junior and senior in high school, it's sad to think that the actions of these five individuals have come to dominate the start of the school year - and brought negative global attention to Creston High School.

All five boys were on the football team and coach Brian Morrison announced he'd spoken with their parents and removed them from the team; the principal Bill Messerole wouldn't comment on what, if any other disciplinary actions would take place.

Creston HS quarterback Kylan Smallwood
Both the coach and the team's quarterback Kylan Smallwood (who is African-American) expressed shock about hearing about the photo even while their comments were thoughtful, eloquent and measured in a videotaped interview about their reactions to the incident.

If there's any positive, it's clearly brought the team and members of the community together in ways that they might not otherwise have been compelled to do.

Personally I think Jamie and Megan Travis, the parents of one of the players in the photo, deserve credit for having the courage to pen an open letter published in the local Creston News Advertiser, apologizing for the incident and asking the community for forgiveness.

As they said in their letter (in part), "The photo in no way reflects our family values. Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God's eyes...Our goal is a peaceful resolution. We want to move forward and embrace our community in eliminating racism in Creston." 

Those are sentiments that I think the vast majority of Americans would share in this era of Trump's vile, petty divisiveness, pandering to nationalism, stoking "otherism" and dreams of walls.

Obviously no one was injured in Creston, Iowa as a result of what those five teens were doing in that photo, so in some ways it's different than what happened in a backyard in Claremont, New Hampshire.

But the root cause is the same.

Clearly no Kum-ba-yah moment is going to magically make everything right in a day.

But let's hope the same sense of contrition and unity in the face of ugliness that flowered in Creston, can blossom in Claremont - and that a traumatized 8-year-old boy and his community can find a way to heal.

What would Billie Holiday think about the erie song "Strange Fruit" still being relevant in 2017?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Johnstown Flood & 'Company Town': Economic Inequality & The Environment

Miami skyline darkens as Hurricane Irma approaches
Late last night I spoke with my good friend Jimmy who lives down in Florida within earshot of Orlando.

He's a first generation Irish-American who grew up in the Bronx, and he and I used to bartend together at an Irish bar on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called McAleer's.

We speak fairly regularly, but after watching CNN coverage of Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida last night, I decided to check in.

"Listen Mickey, I'm stayin' put." he defiantly declared in his New York accent tinged with a hint of an Irish brogue.

Jimmy, a genuinely eclectic character, rarely calls friends by their first names, anyone he's close with gets assigned a nickname; mine is "Mickey". Don't ask me why, I've never asked.

He now lives about 90 miles south of Gainsville about a 45-minute drive to the Orlando airport, so he's at least an hour from the east coast of Florida.

When Irma began tracking towards the west coast of Florida headed towards Tampa, Jimmy decided he was just going to ride it out at home rather than pack his car up and head north as millions of other Florida residents (including Rush Limbaugh) have done.

He told me he has plenty of food, water, vodka and tequila, plus he lives in a relatively newly constructed townhouse complex; so he's taking his chances.

Jimmy is fortunate enough that he could have afforded to evacuate if he'd chosen to, but as a number of news reports this week have detailed, like many poor residents of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, there are millions of people in Florida who simply couldn't afford to evacuate.

Something that presents a troubling problem for the future, especially given that warming ocean temperatures and the failure of advanced, industrialized nations to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year are going to lead to even more coastal flooding and longer hurricane seasons.

A tree impaled into a house after the Johnstown Flood
The prospect that people with less access to resources, transportation, credit and savings are not going to have the option to evacuate areas prone to flood or storm damage exacerbated by fossil fuel and petrochemical companies drive for profit, is truly disturbing.

That said I want to take a look at two different American communities, Johnstown, PA and Crossett, AK.

Earlier this morning I was reading a really interesting article on the devastating Johnstown Flood by Peter Smith published in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette back in 2014.

Those unfamiliar with this horrific disaster might understandably make the mistake of thinking of it as a "natural disaster".

But as Smith points out in his article, the event sheds light on how economic inequality can have a direct impact on the severity of weather-related disasters.

On May 31, 1889 a reservoir known as South Fork Lake (or Lake Conemaugh) holding almost 15 million cubic meters of water crashed through a poorly-constructed and criminally-neglected earthen dam in Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

The lake was the centerpiece of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a private retreat for the wealthy residents of Pittsburgh, many of whom (including Carnegies and Fricks) had made their fortunes in steel manufacturing, railroads, coal mining and banking.

As Peter Smith notes, the 1% of Pittsburgh used the exclusive club as a getaway from the noise, heat and pollution (a by-product of their fortunes) of the city, and in an effort to make the lake more conducive to pleasure-seeking activities, they made changes to the dam that held the 16 million gallons of water at bay.

For example, in order to improve the fishing, the owners of the club had screens installed over the entrances of the spillways that allowed water to naturally flow from the dam.

Screens which eventually became clogged with debris causing water pressure to build.

To make it easier to construct a pathway for horse-drawn carriages to pass over the dam, the club had the top of the dam reduced in height and widened to make it more even with roads on the side of the dam as seen in the illustration to the left.  

As detailed in an article about the Johnstown Flood on Wikipedia, when the owners purchased the lake from the Pennsylvania Railroad, they also failed to replace a system of discharge pipes and valves that were originally part of the dam that allowed water pressure to be relieved when needed - pipes and valves that some enterprising moron later removed and sold off for scrap money.

After 24 hours of nonstop rain, around 3pm on May 31,1889 the dam on South Fork Lake finally gave way, sending 16 million gallons of water cascading 14 miles down the Little Conemaugh River as it gathered momentum and collected tons of trees, rocks, houses, railroad cars, rail lines, telegraph poles, farm animals, fences, miles of barbwire, wagons and other debris.

This deadly nightmarish mass, traveling at 40-miles per hour and at least 60 feet high, leveled several small towns before slamming into the town of Johnstown 57 minutes after the dam broke.

The resulting devastation killed 2,208 people (including 396 children), unknown numbers of animals, and leveled the town of Johnstown - 777 victims were never identified - and some trapped people and animals died when a fire later broke out in the debris.

Part of the tons of debris clogging the Little Conemaugh
River after the Johnstown Flood
The event shocked the nation and the world, 18 nations including Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Australia and Turkey sent aid.

It was the first large-scale relief effort by the Red Cross, whose founder, Clara Barton stayed there for 5 months along with the thousands of people who came from across the nation to assist.

The failure of the dam was a direct result of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club's alterations to the dam and failure to maintain it.


But sadly, in a reflection of the economic inequality which is so prevalent today, even though the actions of the club caused the devastation, two high-priced lawyers (who were also members of the club) successfully blocked efforts to hold the club liable - and a court reached the conclusion that the dam break was an act of God.

None of the victims were able to sue the members for damages, and though club members did donate thousands of dollars to the relief effort, they were never held legally responsible - and they'd made sure to keep their personal assets safely walled off from any liabilities the club might face.

The aftermath of the Johnstown Flood sparked a change in liability laws around the country and brought increased attention on the economic disparity of the Victorian age - not just here in America but around the world as well.

But unfortunately the deeper economic inequity at the root of the disaster is still impacting the lives of poor and working class people.

On Friday's edition of the Leonard Lopate Show, Natlie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian, who wrote, produced and directed the new documentary Company Town, were interviewed about their work to bring attention to the town of Crossett, Arkansas.

Activist Pastor David Bouie in front of his home
in Crossett, Arkansas
The focus of their film is the impact that a paper plant operated by Georgia-Pacific is having on the residents of the town - many of whom make their living by working at the plant.

Georgia-Pacific is owned by Charles and David Koch, whose company Koch Industries is on record as one of the most prolific polluters in modern American history.

The Koch brothers are ardent libertarians who spend hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to back conservative political candidates.

But not just any political candidate, those who will aggressively attack state and federal environmental laws as infringements on personal freedom to make it easier for Koch Industries to make more profit from the web of oil, natural gas, pipeline and other energy-related companies they own.

The Koch brothers didn't build the paper plant in Crossett - but they own it  now.

One of the subjects of Company Town is Pastor David Bouie, a long-time environmental activist, he worked in the plant for 10 years and he's pictured above standing in front of his home on Penn Road in Crossett - of the 15 homes in the area, 11 have had someone die of cancer and in the film he walks the block identifying each one by name.

Another subject in the film, Hazel Parker, also worked in the plant - her mother, father and sister all died of cancer.

9-year-old Simone Smith is interviewed in the film as well, she was diagnosed with cancer and her ovary had to be surgically removed after a mass was discovered in her stomach.

The documentary cites not only the pollution from the Georgia-Pacific plant that's clogged a nearby river as well as the soil and air, but the alarmingly high cancer rates suffered by residents of the town whose livelihoods depend on the plant.

Georgia-Pacific plant in Crossett
The plant dumps 45 million gallons of waste water every day into the Ouachita River - waste which includes a number of harmful chemicals including hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde.

The film is in a limited release in New York, but I'm hoping it's going to be made available on Netflix so it can reach a wider audience - someone needs to stick EPA head Scott Pruitt in a room and watch this film, but he's probably already been in a room with lobbyists from Georgia-Pacific or Koch Industries.

Ben Kenigsberg wrote a review of Company Town in the New York Times last Thursday, and while the pollution in Crossett has been the subject of media coverage in the past, hopefully the release of the documentary will generate more public attention and political pressure on Koch Industries to do something about the pollution that's causing cancer .

Not in a nightmarish flood like in Johnstown back in 1889, but slowly and steadily as Koch Industries continues to make profit while average Americans of modest means suffer from the same plant that keeps food on their tables and a steady paycheck coming.

If there's a more egregious example of the devastating effects of economic inequity, environmental racism, political apathy, loss of innocent life and the spoiling of natural resources in the name of profit, I'm not sure what it is.

Anyway I'll check in with my friend Jimmy shortly to make sure he's okay as Hurricane Irma approaches, he's lucky enough to be able to leave in the event of a disaster, whether it be man-made or natural.

Most of the people of Crossett, Arkansas and Johnstown, Pennsylvania back in 1889 weren't, and are not, nearly so fortunate.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Michael Bennett & Vegas PD - Discriminatory Policing Or Mistaken Identity?

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett
While I am admittedly declaring myself a 24-hour fan of the Kansas City Chiefs for roughing up the New England Patriots 42-27 in Foxborough in last night's NFL opener, by no means am I a fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

But as a former professional football player and an African-American who is physically larger than the average Joe, I understand first-hand what it's like to be singled out by some members of private security or law enforcement simply because of the color of my skin and the dimensions of my body.

So I stand with Michael Bennett.

Like him I know what it's like to be an undrafted free agent defensive end in the NFL after playing Division I football in college; and I know what it's like to be a young man of color in a high-profile profession in a predominantly white community.

So after reading his open letter about his disturbing encounter with members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department after the recent Mayweather-McGregor fight, I was pissed.

Like thousands of other people, Bennett was in Vegas for the fight.

As he was walking back to his hotel around 1:30am, the sound of gunshots rang out somewhere in the vicinity of Drai's Nightclub in the Cromwell Casino.

When members of the Las Vegas MPD arrived at the scene, hundreds of people were pouring out of the casino onto the street trying to get away from the area.

Patrons exiting the Cromwell Casino after gunshots
rang out after the Mayweather-McGregor fight in Vegas
In his widely-publicized letter, Bennett claims that he was just one of hundreds of people fleeing the chaotic scene.

With no physical description of the alleged shooter a group of LVMPD officers began approaching the casino and saw him running.

They chased him and forced him to lie facedown on the street while one of the officers pointed a gun at his head and threatened to "blow his head off" if he moved.

Bennett said that as he lay there in the street, it occurred to him that he might not ever see his wife and two daughters again - and that it felt like an eternity as he lay there cuffed with an officer pointing a handgun at him for something he didn't do.

Bennett claims that he kept asking the officers why he was being detained and they said nothing to him as one officer pressed a knee into his back so hard it was difficult for him to breathe as his hands were cuffed so tight his fingers went numb.

He was eventually released after police determined he had nothing to do with the reported gunshots.

After Bennett posted his open letter about the incident on social media, the story quickly blew up in mainstream media.

In the wake of mounting criticism of the officer's treatment of Bennett, on Friday Kevin McMahill, Undersheriff of the LVMPD held a press conference to give the department's account of what happened.

He claimed that Bennett wasn't singled out because of the color of his skin, but because he, like hundreds of other people in the area, was running away from the scene.

Michael Bennett being cuffed by an LVMPD officer
"I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident." McMahill said during his press conference.

To support that conclusion (even without a full investigation of the incident being completed) he expressed doubts that Bennett's being chased and handcuffed was a case of racial profiling because the officers who were involved were both Hispanic.

But what, if anything, does that prove?


Minnesota PD officer Jeronimo Yanez was Hispanic.

He's the guy who flipped out and fatally shot Philando Castille seven times at point blank range during a traffic stop after the innocent cafeteria worker reached to get his ID - and that was after he'd pulled Castille over because he thought he looked like a wanted African-American burglary suspect.

I'm not saying the two LVMPD officers are racist, but let's be honest, they rolled up to a chaotic scene responding to a report of shots fired where hundreds of people were trying to get to safety.

They have no description of the shooter but they see a 6'4" black guy with a beard running and out of everyone in the area they go after him - only he wasn't the shooter, or a criminal.

He was a gainfully-employed, married father of two who attended college who was trying to get back to his hotel room and trying not to get shot by some nutbag with a gun popping off shots in a crowded public space.

But the LVMPD cops didn't see that, they just saw a large black guy - something which seems to trigger a sort of unconscious automated response in some police officers in this country.

I've been stopped by police before for the same reason, so I know what that kind of humiliation and anger feels like.

Colin Kaepernick kneeling with 49'ers teammates
Another reason this incident got under my skin is because you have all these NFL fans expressing their displeasure over the fact that former San Francisco 49'ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attracted so much media attention (and been blackballed from the NFL) over his decision not to kneel during the national anthem to protest discriminatory treatment of people of color by the police.



Even though Freedom of Expression is enshrined in the Constitution, it irked some NFL fans and cops alike.

The same fans who pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year for tickets.

Some of the same fans who walk around wearing jerseys with player's names and numbers on them, and collectively bet billions of dollars a year on NFL games, basically get offended when some of those players express their personal views on race or politics.

To me there's something remarkably hypocritical about expressing adulation for NFL players, but wanting them to shut up when it comes to exercising their right to bring attention to the worsening racial discrimination in this country, and how it impacts their lives as human beings.

Under the current Republican White House and Justice Department, the respective leaders of which are both on the record as saying that they will not use the power of the federal government to address police departments where racially discriminatory policing is shown to be a problem, police oversight isn't going to happen.

So it's up to individual citizens to take action to bring attention to the issue.

And NFL players, regardless of their race or ethnicity, have a right to do that which is protected under the First Amendment Right to Free Speech - period.

Cleveland Browns p[layers kneeling August 21st 
As much as NFL owners want this issue to simply disappear, as the incident in Las Vegas with Michael Bennett clearly demonstrates, it's not going away anytime soon.

In fact it's going to be a subject of conversation and media attention throughout the season.

Members of the Cleveland Browns knelt during the national anthem before a preseason game against the Giants two weeks ago.

Not just to bring attention to discriminatory policing in America.

But also to support Kaepernick - by the way a white player named Seth DeValve knelt with the Browns too, becoming the first white NFL player to do so.

So rather than pretending it doesn't exist, the NFL had better figure out a way to take a much more comprehensive stance on the issue - or risk alienating many of the players who make up it's rosters and account for billions of dollars a year in revenue from broadcast rights, merchandise, ticket sales, stadium concessions and advertising revenue.

Oh and while we're on the subject of football, did you read about Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin's family receiving racist hate mail following the Aggies' opening season loss at UCLA?

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Look I get being upset if your favorite team blows a 34-point lead in the 3rd quarter of the first game of the season, but sending a letter to a man's home in which you threaten him and call him a nigger?

Sumlin is a married father of four with a respectable 79-38 record in five seasons at Texas A&M (including an 11-2 record his first season), one of only seven African-American head coaches at major Division I football programs.

My sense is that the letter, mailed from the Houston Country Club, is yet another sad reflection of the normalization of racial and ethnic hatred cultivated by Trump's embrace of white nationalism and open contempt for undocumented immigrants working in this country - aside from his own wife Melania of course.

As Ben Mathis-Lilley reported for Slate back on February 23rd, the former Melania Knauss violated the terms of her U.S. B1 / B2 tourist visa in the 1990's by earning thousands of dollars as a model before obtaining legal permission to work in the United States.

Because she lied by not disclosing the fact that she'd worked illegally in the U.S. on her H1-B visa (green card) application, under the restrictive immigration measures put into place as a result of executive orders issued by her current husband, she would have been prioritized for deportation because she "engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency."

So I guess Trump's self-righteous zeal about securing our borders is situational and depends upon one's religion, skin color, country of origin and of course whether or not the undocumented immigrant in question is boinking Trump.

Anyway we'll see what happens with the Michael Bennett situation in the coming days, there were reportedly some 126 different remote video cameras in the area where he was arrested so it shouldn't be long before we get to see a better sense of what really happened that night.

Not surprisingly, the LVMPD officer who pointed the gun at Bennett and threatened to blow his head off did not have his body-cam turned on when the incident happened. (Shocker)

But regardless, maybe this incident will prompt some NFL fans who expressed displeasure at Kaepernick's kneeling to step back and think about why he started kneeling in the first place.

The reason is real and it's still happening in this country - perhaps its time that NFL owners, executives and fans stand up for the players who are taking a knee for justice and human rights.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

' Land Of Mine' & The Enduring Legacy of WWII

Bomb disposal experts next to the 1.8 ton HC 4000
bomb defused in Frankfurt, Germany on Sunday
The Kampfmittelbeseitigungsdienst (KMBD) were busy in the German city of Frankfurt on Sunday.

The KMBD is the specialized bomb disposal unit who handle the delicate and dangerous task of defusing, disarming and removing, or in some cases detonating, the approximately 2,000 tons of unexploded ordinance (including bombs, artillery shells, hand grenades and anti-tank and land mines) found scattered across parts of Germany each year.

Deadly remnants of World War II.

Last week an unexploded 1.8 ton, 2-meter long British-made bomb, dropped by Allied Forces during World War II, was discovered in a construction site on the Wisemarer Strasse in the Westend District of Frankfurt.

As the BBC reported, authorities cordoned off a one-mile area of the city and ordered the mandatory evacuation of an estimated 70,000 Frankfurt residents from their homes on Sunday while experts successfully defused the bomb - identified as an HC 4000 "high capacity" bomb, known by Germans as a "Wohnblockknacker" or blockbuster for its ability to destroy entire city blocks.

This deadly artifact dropped during an Allied air raid over Germany at least 72 years ago prompted
the largest evacuation of a German city since the Second World War.

It's also a sobering reminder that even today, the legacy of World War II is very much alive.

It's both remarkable and sad that decades after General Alfred Jodl, Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, appeared at the Allied headquarters in Reims, France to officially sign the documents verifying Germany's unconditional surrender to Allied forces at 2:41am on May 7, 1945, civilians lives are still under threat from that war.

Back in April, in my blog about Anne Fontaine's haunting 2016 film The Innocents, I reflected upon the pain, anguish, humiliation, trauma and death experienced by a small group of nuns in a remote Benedictine convent in the Polish countryside at the hands of a group of depraved Russian soldiers in the winter of 1945.

As actor Keith David observed in his moving narration of director / producer Ken Burns' landmark documentary of World War II, The War (written by Geoffrey C. Ward), millions of people's lives were impacted by the devastating war which raged across the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia, and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, between 1939 and 1945.

There are literally tens of thousands of stories that may never be told, or are little known outside those who lived through the experience.

The experiences portrayed in the 2015 film Land Of Mine offers a look into another little-known story of World War II, one that also revolves around the complex and dangerous issue of unexploded ordinance left scattered and buried across Europe.

From the opening scene, it's clear that the central theme of this film is to wrestle with complex ethical questions related lingering anger over Germany's responsibility for WWII.

The film, directed by Martin Zandvliet, is set on the western coast of Denmark in May, 1945 just after the end of the war in Europe at the conclusion of a five-year occupation of the country by German troops.

The story opens on Carl Rasmussen, an embittered and war-weary Danish Army sergeant, brilliantly played by actor Roland Møller, sitting in a jeep silently watching a long line of exhausted German POW's marching past on their way out of the country under the watchful eyes of Allied soldiers.

When Rasmussen spots one of the German soldiers carrying a folded Danish flag as a trophy, he stops and angrily confronts the man, rips the flag from him and proceeds to start physically assaulting him; punching him until his face is bloodied and slapping another German soldier who tries to intervene.

Though the German soldier is unarmed, exhausted and makes no attempt to fight back, it's clear that Sergeant Rasmussen is venting pent-up rage after five years of occupation under the Nazis.

Watching the scene, my initial reaction was that the beating seemed excessive, cruel and unfair.

Sgt. Rasmussen sizes up the teenaged German
soldiers forced to defuse mines under his command  
But looking at the German uniform of the victim and reflecting on the fact that some 3,000 Danish people died at the hands of the Germans during the occupation, part of me felt I had no right to judge Rasmussen.

The German occupation of Denmark lasted from April 9, 1940 until May 5, 1945, so one can only imagine the kinds of cruelties, and depravation the Danish people endured under German forces.

So part of me felt like Sgt. Rasmussen was justified in teeing off on a German soldier.

But very quickly, the film elevates that ethical dilemma to an even more complex level.

The pace of the film is brisk, and it's quickly revealed that Rasmussen's job is to oversee a group of fourteen teenaged German prisoners who will be forced to perform the dangerous task of locating and defusing 45,000 mines that were laid along a section of beach on the west coast of Denmark under Hitler's orders as part of coastal defenses against a possible Allied assault.

These teenagers aren't the battle-hardened veterans of the German Wehrmacht or Nazi SS divisions responsible for the Blitzkrieg warfare that rapidly overran France, Belgium, Poland, Russia and other countries in the early part of the war.

Nor are they the Gestapo and SS troops who ran the concentration camps.

Their mismatched, ill-fitting uniforms clearly mark the ragtag group assigned to Sergeant Rasmussen as former members of Germany's Volkssturm, or "peoples storm".

Hitler greets young Volkssturm recruits in Berlin
during the final days of World War II 
The Volkssturm were a hastily-assembled and poorly-trained civilian militia called into service by Hitler in the final months of the war as Allied troops began to close in on Germany in 1944 and thousands of regular German forces were killed, wounded, captured or cut off.

A brainchild of Hitler and his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, Volkssturm were made up of thousands of civilian men between the ages of 16 and 60 drafted into service, given cursory training and pressed into combat with outdated surplus weaponry and 2nd hand uniforms.

The casting, art direction, production design and cinematography in Land Of Mine combine to do an excellent job of gradually stripping away the outer layers and assumptions many people have of German soldiers in WWII  - revealing them as frightened kids abused and scapegoated for a war they played very little role in.

When they're first revealed in the film, their faces encrusted with dirt and partially hidden under mismatched helmets and hats, it's difficult to distinguish them from regular German POWs.

But once they're roughly sized up by Sergeant Rasmussen, and we begin to learn their names, it starts to become clear how young they really are.

Housed together in an old cottage by the sea with no toilet, electricity or running water that's been hastily outfitted with wooden bunk beds piled with straw-filled mattresses and pillows, as they begin to interact away from the eyes of Rasmussen we see them for who they are.

A captured German teen uses a probe to search
for landmines in Land Of Mine
The director and script effectively walk the audience through their initial training to learn how to defuse land mines by a cold-hearted Danish officer played by Danish actor Mikkel Boe Følsgaard; who views and treats the German teenagers with an icy hatred and contempt that's dehumanizing and reminiscent of how American film audiences usually see Nazi officers portrayed onscreen.

And these kids are faced with an almost unimaginable reality.

They must find and defuse 45,000 land mines buried and placed on a stretch of beach before they will be released and allowed to return home to Germany.

The plot is not overly complex, and it doesn't have to be - the story writes itself.

It also begs the question: should Danish people or soldiers risk their lives to rid their beaches of landmines the Germans placed there? Why shouldn't the Germans do it?

The film offers no easy answer to this question.

There is an underlying and constantly building tension as the boys must cope with almost no food as they settle into their new routine of crawling along marked off areas of beach looking for, digging up and defusing the thousands of landmines that were buried there by their own troops during the German occupation of Denmark.

The locals, Danish officers and a group of particularly cruel British soldiers in one unforgettable scene abuse them verbally, emotionally and physically.

But they endure their task with purpose and determination, even as they must watch friends succumb to gruesome injuries and death when things go wrong in the minefields.

Particularly moving is the character arc of Sergeant Rasmussen, who finds himself thrust into the role of surrogate father to boys he at first despises, but reluctantly comes to respect and even care for and sympathize with.

Real German Volkssturm during WWII
The ending of Land Of Mine is not Hollywood by any stretch.

The story is taken from actual events and there's nothing "Hollywood" about it.

The script is appropriately grim, violent, laced with tension and at times heartbreaking and hard to watch - as such a film should be.

But that said the ending is meaningful and rewarding in a way that offers a reminder that compassion, humanity and hope can endure even under the horrific circumstances of war.

Though it was released theatrically in Europe in 2015, Land Of Mine was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Oscars last year.

While it didn't win, it says a lot about the quality and depth of this movie (particularly the directing and acting performances) that it was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

I think this film offers some perspective as Americans come to grips with the fact that the current White House administration and Attorney General have moved to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program initiated under President Obama in the wake of the Republican-controlled Congress' failure to pass legislation to grant legal status to the thousands of young people brought to the United States through no fault of their own.

Land Of Mine is a stark reminder that ending DACA is not the first time that political leaders have used children, teenagers and young adults as fodder for rigid ideology.

As in 1945 on the beaches of western Denmark, here in the United States today, a nation founded by immigrants, young people brought to a foreign country through no fault of their own find their lives being upended and in some cases placed at risk, in the name of a political ideology they had nothing to do with.

And while the specific circumstances and danger may be different, it's just as tragic now as it was 72 years ago on a European coastline strewn with unexploded landmines.