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(Aaand… we’re back. After a two-year hiatus. It’s a protracted struggle, you know.)

Sutherland as President Snow in The Hunger Games movie series.

Sutherland as President Snow in The Hunger Games movie series.

The title itself caught our attention: a Philippine newspaper story on The Hunger Games’ (THG) Donald Sutherland comparing the dystopian world of Katniss and Peeta and President Snow to that of the US of A.

It’s a view not exclusive to Sutherland, as many from the left had previously claimed THG as their own, or rather, as an allegory of an evil (US imperialism) they have been fighting against. (Sutherland also had previously alluded to this interpretation in earlier interviews.) Thai protesters, bereft, it seems, of much of a militant protest culture and history, went further and used THG symbolism (namely the three-fingered hand sign) as their own protest symbolMilitant activists of the more seasoned variety, of course, must not see this a problem. As we have seen with the proliferation of Guy Fawkes masks (taken from the anarchist-themed film V for Vendetta) in Occupy protests and in other protest actions across the globe, the Thai protesters’ use of the three-finger hand sign only tells us how education systems, especially in the West, have deprived the youth today of their history (especially their alternative history, or, as Howard Zinn puts it, their People’s History) that the latter have turned to popular culture for inspiration for their resistance to systemic oppression.

What really pops out of the interview is this:

Toward the end of our interview, Sutherland recalled after he learned where I came from, “I read a book called Philippine Society and Revolution. I can’t remember the name of the author. But it must have been in 1971 when I was in the Philippines. Marcos was the president there at that time.”

The aforementioned book, written by Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, using the nom de plume Amado Guerrero, became the guiding book for waging the national democratic revolution in the Philippines. By the time Sutherland and fellow movie star Jane Fonda visited the country in November 1971, the revolutionary struggle was already in full bloom: a year before, there was the First Quarter Storm, while a few months had passed since the Diliman Commune of 1971 (Google these events, if you don’t know about them already).

Sutherland and Fonda came to the Philippines as part of a tour of a “political vaudeville” called “F.T.A.” (“Free the Army”, or “Fuck the Army”, depending on who you ask). “F.T.A.” was a pioneer of sorts in political theater: it was conceptualized to counter Bob Hope’s tour among US military camps to increase troop morale. Fonda, then at the height of her radical phase, produced the tour and recruited fellow actor Sutherland and other fellow travelers to perform near US military bases across the globe and contribute to the anti-Vietnam war movement growing even among GIs. The group included writer Barbara Garson, who wrote an equally pioneering play “MacBird” (a spin of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”).

“F.T.A”‘s tour was subject of a documentary film by the same name, co-produced by Fonda. I found it uploaded on YouTube, in 10 parts. Here is the parts 5 and 6, where Fonda, Sutherland and company arrived in the Philippines and found it teeming with revolutionary fervor.

Part 5 (PH leg starts at 1:14):

Part 6:

The documentary film offers renewed significance in the light of US pivot to Asia, the PH and US gov’ts’ signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA, effectively reviving the US military bases in the country) and the Jennifer Laude murder case.

As for Sutherland, he always had a leftie streak. Remember that he did play Norman Bethune. And he sorta goes for the Karl Marx look these days.356bpresident-snow-totally-looks-like-karl-marx


The National Geographic Magazine published this article on post-EDSA 1 Philippines on July 1986. Written by Arthur Zich and photos by renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry, the article rides on the “People Power” euphoria and dismisses the continuing revolutionary struggles by the New People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front as “threats” to the supposed “new democratic order” under Corazon Aquino.

We all know how that ended up.

The magazine apparently used only one photo on the NPA (page 92) that McCurry took. Some  photos can be viewed in his website.



View full article »

Reading Natgeo

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

The National Geographic Magazine is one of those mags I really like to read and look at. The photography is superb, the writing crisp and tight.

The politics behind this magazine, of course, is liberal-democratic, which is to say, shamelessly capitalistic and biased against societies and regimes that are/were proclaimed to be socialist, anti-capitalist or (erroneously, of course) communist. It seems revealing that the organization behind the magazine calls itself the “National Geographic Society”, even as it covers peoples and societies beyond its (US) national borders. It is based in the US capital, Washington D.C.

Though the group says its aim is “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources,” it has, time and again, yielded its pages to political stories, like that of war, famine, political conflicts–from the American, liberal-democratic, viewpoint. Thus, it does not surprise us when the magazine features political conflicts like wars of national liberation, or anti-fascist wars, and presents those who pursue liberation wars with a hint of sympathy. Examples would be its coverage of the Palestinian cause, as well as the Apartheid-era South African cause.

On the other hand, it treats with contempt and distrust nations who were/are labelled “socialist”, from the Stalin-era USSR, Maoist China (1949-1976), as well as North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam (before the neoliberal “reforms” of the ’80s)–even as these countries, before being labelled “socialist”, experienced successes in their bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Of course, the magazine covers with contempt and distrust such ongoing upheavals as that of Nepal, India, and the Philippines. In these countries, revolutions are led by communist parties–their upheavals are aimed not only at achieving national liberation from foreign domination and control, but also wresting political and economic power from the bourgeoisie to install a regime of proletarian “dictatorship” (Simply put, a dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship of the working class — a dictatorship of the majority).

Like most US cultural imports, the National Geographic Magazine has an intractable, almost fundamentalist, view of capitalism, socialism and communism that cannot be subverted. That is this magazine’s tragedy.

For me, however, it is instructive to read and look at their coverage of national liberation wars, whether or not led by socialist or communist parties, like that of the National Geographic Magazine. It instructs us on how the prism of liberal-democratic ideology views the socialist experiments and revolutions, and to what extent it distorts objective reality or represses essential truths to suit its ideology.

As an example, read the Natgeo stories on Nepal’s revolution here and here.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Renowned photographer Steve McCurry, who worked for the premiere photographer agency Magnum, covered the Philippines for seven months in 1986, just before and after the February uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In his website, McCurry briefly described his time in the country. Many of the photos later came out in the July 1986 issue of the National Geographic magazine.

McCurry wrote in his website:

I spent seven months in the Philippines and was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

I was one of the first to enter the Malacanang Palace after Marcos fled.  I called my illustrations editor, Elie Rogers, from Imelda Marcos’s bedroom and saw first hand her sumptuous wardrobe.  Looters were grabbing things.  Some were so loaded down they could hardly walk.

On the desk, I saw a communique from the White House warning Marcos against using force.  The palace was strewn with fast-food chicken and noodle containers from a final meal.  In the chapel, I saw the palace staff praying.

His photos and writeup can be viewed here.

I have yet to get hold of a copy of the NatGeo issue where McCurry’s photos came out.

(Update 11 April 2012: I did manage to get hold of a copy of the Natgeo issue. The magazine printed one photo of NPAs that McCurry took.)

Filipino photojournalist Gil Nartea makes a nostalgia trip to the New People’s Army of the 1980s, with his photo exhibit (at the Fred’s Revolucion bar in Cubao, Quezon City, PH) and article in the popular online site

For a photojournalist, it was a time to make sure that the revolution will be photographed, to paraphrase that popular poem.

I would go up the densely forested areas of the mountains several times, armed with 2 Olympus film cameras, roaming the red areas of the NPA, the small isolated barrios uphill, where basic social services are non-existent and government military troops, doctors and school teachers are rarely seen.

Interestingly, Gil Nartea now works as a close-in photographer for Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Read the entire writeup here.

Here is the accompanying photo slideshow to the writeup:

John Reed

John Reed

Harold Evans on that shameful tradition of red scare among Western journalists during modern times:

Only a handful of correspondents and newspapers emerge with credit in reporting the overthrow of the czar, the violent civil war and the intervention by Allied troops against triumphant Bolsheviks. Too many newspapers did not tell the public what was happening, but what newspaper editors and political leaders fervently wished were so — that in 1917 there was no danger of the Russian army deserting the cause; then that the czar was safe; then that Bolshevism would soon perish. The Allied intervention war was so underreported that even today many Americans do not know that 5,000 Polish-Americans from Michigan and Wisconsin joined British forces in Archangel, while 7,000 others went to Siberia to link up with Japanese troops in an attempt to smash the revolution.

In an article for The New Republic in 1920, Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz examined coveraged of the Russian Revolution in what was by then the country’s greatest newspaper, The New York Times, and concluded it was “nothing short of a disaster.” According to Lippmann and Merz, “the news columns were profoundly and crassly influenced by the hopes of the men who ran the paper. On the essential questions, the net effect was almost always misleading.” Between November 1917 and November 1919, the Times  reported on no fewer than 91 occasions that the Bolshevik regime was on the verge of collapse. Official censorship was not to blame. “The chief censor and the chief propagandist were hope and fear in the minds of reporters and editors.” Their contribution to public understanding at a time of supreme crisis “was about as useful as that of an astrologer or alchemist.” The same criticism could be made of the statesmen — including Woodrow Wilson — the military missions, the diplomats and much of the press around the world, including London’s Times. But a rough draft of history did emerge from the bravery and independence of four journalists — John Reed of The Masses, Morgan Phillips Price of The Guardian, Arthur Ransome of Britain’s Daily News and Frazier “Spike” Hunt of the Chicago Tribune.

Ten Days That Shook the World

The work by the colorful Hunt, who was alone in predicting that the Bolshevik Reds would win, is a brilliant exception to the time. He horse-sledded almost 1,000 miles from Archangel up frozen rivers and snow-bound forests to reach American outposts, then sneaked out a 5,000-word cable via Norway that helped to have the isolated U.S. troops recalled from a foolish mission. Then he traveled in an armoured train with the Siberian peasant Red soldiers and learned enough to predict that the Bolsheviks would win. The crowning achievement, though, was John Reed’s. He was passionately on the side of the Bolsheviks, attended their riotous, marathon meetings, ate with them, slept with them and argued with them in the wild and menacing confusions in Petrograd. But he was too great an artist and reporter to pump out propaganda. (sic) Here is Reed going into a soldiers’ and workers’ meeting in Smolny Palace in 1917:

“It was cold and at the outer gate the Red Guards had built themselves a bonfire. At the inner gate, too, there was a blaze, by the light of which the sentries slowly spelled out our passes and looked us up and down. The canvas covers had been taken off four rapid-fire guns on each side of the doorway, and the ammunition-belts hung snake-like from their breeches. The long, bare, dimly illuminated halls roared with the thunder of feet, calling, shouting…There was an atmosphere of recklessnes.”

Reed’s “Ten Days That Shook the World” remains a masterpiece of reporting for vivid portraits and insights. He sees Lenin as “a short stocky figure, bald and bulging, a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colorless, humorless, uncompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncracies, but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms.” He sees Leon Trotsky “standing up with a pale, cruel face, letting out his rich voice in cool contempt.” He is prophetic: “In the relations of a weak government with a rebellious people there comes a time when every act of the authorities exasperates the masses, and every refusal to act excites their contempt.” He saw it happen.

Workers' uprising in Russia, 1917.

Workers' uprising in Russia, 1917.

And yet Reed was a pariah. His anti-war views and radical politics made him suspect in the eyes of U.S. authorities. His writings in the left-wing Masses twice led to trials on charges of sedition. Although acquitted on both occasions, when he returned to the United States from Petrograd his papers were seized and held by the government for more than a year.

–Harold Evans, War Stories: Reporting in the Time of Conflict From the Crimea to Iraq. Newseum/Bunker Hill Publishing: Boston, 2003.

The CIA and the media

Carl Berstein (photo from the NY Times website)

Carl Bernstein (photo from the NY Times website)

Here is an interesting article that I saw in the internet recently:


How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up

Published in Rolling Stone on October 20, 1977

In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.

Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

Read the rest of the article here.

This is not exactly news. But still it surprises those who are naive enough to believe that journalists — especially mainstream journalists — are generally objective, unaligned, and professional people of integrity. Ha.

Here is an interesting, though not really new, notion: Mainstream journalism exists to maintain the status quo. And graphic images of war are allowed to be printed and broadcast precisely because at the end of the viewing, the status quo will likely be maintained. Here is what photography blogger Hugh McCabe in the blog Traces of the Real says, quoting art critic and writer John Berger:

Shocking images [of war]… had only recently become acceptable in American newspapers and (John) Berger recounts two commonly cited reasons for this. One is that the public are demanding to know the truth of war and the newspapers are giving them what they want. The second is that the public have steadily become immune to images of horror and the newspapers are competing to show ever more horrific images in order to gain their attention. Berger rejects both of these, and goes on to suggest that such images are now acceptable to the mainstream media because they are clearly failing to have their intended effect. By this he means that they are not moving the public to seriously question, challenge or threaten the political establishment that is pursuing the war. If they did, then the media would not be carrying them.

“There are many uses of the innumerable opportunities that a modern life supplies for regarding—at a distance, through the medium of photography—other people’s pain. Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses: a call for peace; a cry for revenge; or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen.”

Susan Sontag, Looking at war (December 9, 2002)

Are mainstream images of war precisely handpicked (by editors, publishers, etc.) to evoke this abiguity, rather than the generally accepted (though challenged) notion of war as evil and inhumane?

The Times UK, March 2007

The Sunday Times also used Philip Blenkinsop's photos

British journalist Andrew Marshall, who wrote the Time Magazine cover story, also came out with an article on the New People’s Army in the Philippines in the Sunday Times UK. He basically said the same things he said in Time: that the NPAs were supposedly fighting for a dead ideology and poverty was fuelling the rebellion much more than ideology (What do they mean by ideology, by the way?). As most accounts go, Marshall’s impressionistic portrait of the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines leaves so much more to be desired. At least, though, he brought much less bias than most journalists do when doing stories about communist insurgencies.

Read the story here.