Category: Full Interviews With Our Guests

Must See Doc: The Act of Killing

  • The Act Of Killing
  • “Disturbing” “Phenomenal”
  • Tells the story of mass murder in Indonesia
  • Running From Crazy
  • “Bravery in the face of…genetic destiny”
  • Mariel Hemingway’s battle with her family’s history of mental illness

Michael Snyder, our resident film critic, stops by every once in a while to tell us what documentaries we should be catching. Today, he has two.

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David:  Hello Mr. Snyder.  First up, The Act of Killing.

Michael: Well, this is a fascinating, disturbing and wildly original documentary by a director named Joshua Oppenheimer, who decided to do something about the mass extermination of people in Indonesia in 1965 that was initiated by a military coup.

People in charge gathered together a bunch of gangsters and set them out to basically cleanse the country of what they said were Communists, and the Communists could be anything from farmers to poor people to genuine dissidents.

Michael: This film goes back to Indonesia and finds these now elderly killers and asks them to  explain the how and the why of the murders that they committed and also to reenact them for the camera.

Michael: These  guys, apparently, a number of them really love the American movies, and they’re given an opportunity to play act these incidents of killing and torture, and basically try to justify what they did when they did it and express very little remorse. Some of these guys killed hundreds of people, literally hundreds of people, each individually. One guy in particular, Anwar Congo, has bad dreams, and a lot of it must be guilt.

The Act of Killing according to Michael Snyder is "amazing."

The Act of Killing according to Michael Snyder is “amazing.”

David: Does he know that he’s guilty?

Michael: Oh, absolutely. But it doesn’t change the fact that they did it and they tried to justify what they did. Even today, people are frightened of them as we see in the course of their filming and interacting with actual citizens of the northern Sumatra area.

It’s pretty astonishing stuff.

David: After Suharto fell in 1998 did Indonesia have any truth in reconciliation? Did any of these guys go to prison for these atrocities?

Michael: No. No, absolutely not. They walk the streets, they’re still feared and/or admired or cowed before. It’s a phenomenal film, and it’s surreal in places. There’s one particular kind of production number involving the music from the film Born Free with dancing girls and what looks like a gigantic fish. I can’t even – it is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s disturbing, it’s phenomenal. It’s as if somehow, the Nazis were given a pass and were still around today and were kind of basically strutting down their street in their hometown and nobody gave a damn.

David: Maybe it’s time for another documentary where Henry Kissinger reenacts all the murders he’s committed in Indonesia’s East Timor and Cambodia.

Michael: There’s enough horror on the screen with these old Indonesian gangsters. You’ll be stunned, honestly.

David: And they’re proud of it?

Michael: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And one guy is just happy that he got away with it, another guy is somewhat tormented, some say you just can’t allow yourself to embrace any guilt in the issue. And there’s one guy, he was the stepson of a Communist whose stepfather just disappeared. They took him away. And what’s really remarkable about this is the palpable fear he still has in the presence of these old gangsters.

David: And ‘gangsters’ is the word for them?

Michael:  Yeah. They actually wear it proudly.

David: And they live well, right?

Michael:  I don’t know how standards of living are over there, but yes, fairly comfortably.

There’s also a very perverse moment when Anwar is with what appears to be grandchildren and he’s being gentle about a wounded duck, and meanwhile, completely callous about the people that he killed. One guy talks about walking through the city and encountering Chinese Communists, or people he perceived of as Chinese Communists, and just stabbing them one after another, just going on a tear.

David: President Obama lived in Indonesia for a while, didn’t he?

Michael: He may not have known these guys.

Running From Crazy is another doc Michael says we should all catch.

Running From Crazy is another doc Michael says we should all catch.

David: Maybe he’s responsible for this. OK, Running From Crazy.

Michael:  Well, it’s basically a documentary about Mariel Hemingway and her fear of the emotional, psychological and genetic legacy that has led to at least two suicides in her family and a mentally disturbed elder sister. Mariel’s sister, Margaux, who was an actress and a model, took her own life and was a lovely, vibrant woman.

Mariel seems to have her head screwed on straight and she’s trying to keep her life together, and the camera follows her through her life and she talks about the past. There’s video footage shot by Margaux, and there’s a lot of discussion of the entire family, including Mariel and Margaux’s grandfather, the great author Ernest Hemingway, who had plenty of problems of his own.

Running From Crazy is directed by award winning Director Barbara Kopple,

Running From Crazy is directed by award winning Director Barbara Kopple,

Michael: The director is Barbara Kopple, who did Harlan County, USA, American Dream, and a lot of other pretty renowned, award-winning documentaries. It appears to have been partially financed I think by OWN, or has been shown on OWN, Oprah’s network. But it’s a beautiful depiction of someone basically plowing forward with her life, making sure she’s going to do the very best she can to keep it together. She’s wonderful in that.

David: And she’s turned to yoga and eating properly, and she has either a boyfriend or a husband?

Michael:  She seems like a good person. She seems like someone who has her head screwed on. But it’s interesting to hear her reflect on her family and see the footage from the past, and realize that she’s grappled with tragedy and a fear of her own mind crumbling for much of her adult life. And it’s powerful in its own way. Reflecting on the past can actually prepare you for the future or completely turn your life around. This movie is about family bravery in the face of what could be destiny, genetic destiny, if you will.

David: Great. Michael Snyder, thank you for joining us.

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CeCe McDonald, Woman, Being Held In Male Prison

  • Trans woman acting in self defense, CeCe McDonald killed her attacker.
  • Judge sentenced CeCe to 41 months inside a male prison.
  • Katie Couric under fire for focusing more on transgender body parts than why a woman is in a man’s prison.
  • Zach Ford from ThinkProgress.org has the latest.

Katie Couric is under fire for an interview with two transgender women during which she focused, some say, far too much on whether or not the women had penises but not enough on what it means to be a transgender woman.

Listen to the original broadcast

David: For more on this, we are joined by Zack Ford, who covers LGBT issues for ThinkProgress.org. Sometimes curiosity can be detrimental to a transgender person, right?

Zack: Sure. This is a phenomenon that happens across all different kinds of groups where someone who’s a member of a group that’s often in the majority encounters someone who’s not part of that group, and tries to figure out what makes them different. So a white person asking a person of color if they can touch their hair, it minimizes that individual to the parts of their identity that set them apart and doesn’t embrace them as a full person.

So this is something that we saw in this Katie Couric interview where she’s focused so much on the process you go through, and for those women that were on the stage being interviewed by her, it reduces them to their bodies, and it’s very reductionist.

Critics say Katie Couric focused too much on the sizzle and too little on the plight of CeCe McDonald.

Critics say Katie Couric focused too much on the sizzle and too little on the plight of CeCe McDonald.

David: You write that a transgender person can’t discuss transgender issues in the media without first divulging the current status of their body.

Zack: They can say whatever they want to say. The problem is that those are the questions that they get asked. They have to defend and legitimize what it means to be transgender and what they’ve done to their bodies to realize their identities before they’re given the validity and respect that they deserve for just being people.

David: When we talk with a transgender person, it’s nobody’s business what the current state of their body is.

Zack: We lose the story of their community when we focus just on their bodies. They’re people just like the rest of us, and we need to focus on what will best support them and help them thrive and help them get out of poverty and help them get jobs and help them find places to live instead of just worrying about what body parts they have.

David:  Exactly. How many transgender Americans are there?

Zack:  That’s a complicated question to ask, just like it’s a complicated question to ask how many gay people are there. The best estimate that we have of people who openly identify as transgender is about 0.3% of adults in the population. So a little less than about a million people in the country.

But again, that’s people who openly identify as trans, people who might have gone through some sort of transition. It doesn’t really count for a lot of Americans who might have some variations in their gender identity but don’t “own” that as a trans identity.  Or people who are still struggling to figure that out and have not come out and begun to transition.

Actress Laverne Cox is producing a documentary about CeCe McDonald.

Actress Laverne Cox is producing a documentary about CeCe McDonald.

So about 0.3% is the estimate that we have. It’s probably actually higher than a lot of people think it is, but it is a small population.

David: What do transgender Americans need to watch out for?

Zack: One big problem is not acknowledging your trans-identity can really have a lot of mental health consequences, and so we want trans people to feel safe to come out. What we have to do as a society is make sure that it’s safe for them to do that and to go through a process that allows them to find that unanimity within themselves.

David: Who is CeCe McDonald?

Zack:  CeCe McDonald is a trans woman of color from Minnesota, and in June of 2011, she was out with some friends, and on the street they were assaulted by two white women and a man and a fight ensued. CeCe herself was punctured with a piece of glass in her cheek that also hurt her salivary gland. So she and her friends fought back, and in the end, the man who assaulted them was found dead. CeCe was arrested, was forced to plead guilty, and sentenced to 41 months in jail. This happened in 2011.

David: Any effort to get CeCe released?

Zach: Right now, Laverne Cox, the trans actress who stars on Orange Is the New Black, is producing a documentary called Free CeCe, which is about the way that CeCe, along with many trans women of color, are themselves the subject of persecution and often are not given justice through the justice system.

David: Is CeCe in a women’s prison or a men’s prison?

Zack: CeCe is in a men’s prison serving for second degree manslaughter.

David: Would Americans better serve the transgender community by getting past the physical and focusing solely on issues of identity?

CeCe McDonald is serving in a Men's prison.

CeCe McDonald is serving in a Men’s prison.

Zack: I think I’d start by saying that I don’t think of trans people as struggling by nature. Being trans is not something that is a problem for them, but there are problems that society creates for them because of the fact that they’re trans.

Zack: So, yes, they go through their own journey that’s physical, and sometimes that can be a financial hardship for them if they can’t afford the surgery that will help them best realize their identities. But moreover, they are subject to rampant discrimination, not unlike CeCe has experienced both for being targeted with an act of violence and then not given justice in the end.

So it’s often a problem when we get so caught up in understanding what it means to be trans. It’s something so strange to us, we don’t understand what it must be like to not have a gender that corresponds with our body. We get caught up in their journeys physically with their bodies. But then we lose sight of the lived experience that they have and the way that they suffer discrimination both for being trans and just for being women sometimes, for trans women who are facing their own kind of discrimination.

So I think that we have so much to learn from the trans community because the kinds of identities that they find in themselves teach us a lot about ourselves and the boxes that we often put ourselves into. So I think it’s great to explore that diversity and celebrate all the different identities within that community.

Zack Ford covers LGBT issues for ThinkProgress.org.

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Dennis Rodman Checks Into Rehab

  • Dennis Rodman checked himself into rehab Wednesday.
  • Less than a week after returning home from his fourth trip to North Korea.
  • Agent says Rodman will be in alcohol treatment facility for one month.
  • Rodman and agent still refuse to apologize for “basketball diplomacy.”
  • Sobriety may not be the only hurdle the 52-year-old basketball legend faces.
  • Today’s guest Hayes Brown says charity Rodman claimed to be playing for  in North Korea may not even exist.

Dennis Rodman has checked himself into rehab less than one week after returning from North Korea. Hayes Brown from ThinkProgress.org says Rodman may have misled us about the charity he was reportedly playing for

Listen to the original broadcast

Dennis Rodman makes his fourth trip to North Korea to play in what he calls a ‘charity basketball game’ raising money for North Korea’s deaf.  Not so, says Hayes Brown, who is a national security reporter for ThinkProgress.org. He joins us from Washington, D.C.

David: Today, you’re reporting over at ThinkProgress.org that Rodman’s agent and the sponsor of his trip know nothing about this charity for the deaf?

Hayes: That is correct. So, Rodman, when he first landed in North Korea, they told the Associated Press that the proceeds from this game, whatever those might be, will be going to a North Korean charity for the deaf. When I reached out to Paddy Power, the sponsor of the event, they directed me to Rodman’s agent. Then Rodman’s agents still didn’t give me any information about this charity.

Dennis Rodman checks into rehab less than a week after returning home from North Korea.

Dennis Rodman checked into rehab last Wednesday, less than a week after returning home from North Korea.

David: Who is Paddy Power?

Hayes: Paddy Power is an Irish bookmaking website, actually. They’re online gambling, and they decided to sponsor this trip for Dennis Rodman and several former NBA players to go over and play a North Korean basketball team and get all the publicity that comes with it.

But I do know that Paddy Power is no longer interested in the Rodman name. It turns out, right before the New Year, they pulled their name from the sponsorship saying they don’t want to be associated with North Korea anymore. Instead, they are just paying for the trip due to the contractual obligations of the agreement they already agreed to with Rodman.

David: This is his fourth trip. Were the three previous trips for charity?

Hayes: None of them were for charity. The first one was with VICE magazine to go and do a cultural diplomacy sort of thing. At that point, he struck up a weird friendship with Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea, and at that point, he decided to go back, to everyone’s surprise, and he met up with the dictator again. And then on his third trip, he was coaching the North Korean Olympic basketball team a little – I mean, it’s unclear exactly what he was doing at that stage. So on this fourth one, charity, that’s why it’s a little questionable.

David: How does North Korea treat its deaf?

Hayes: The parents of disabled children are forced to move from Pyongyang, the capital, because they want to present a perfect city. They’re sent off to isolation basically where they can’t be seen or heard from, and their medical infrastructure is in no way adequate to provide for the disabled.

David: We’re on Pacifica Radio. Pacifica’s mandate is to promote peaceful dialogue. Dennis Rodman going to North Korea falls under the purview of Pacifica’s mission statement. Isn’t this a good thing? Isn’t this the right thing to do for one of our own, to reach out to a potential enemy?

Hayes: You’d think so, if Kim Jong-Un had shown any sort of willingness to have peaceful dialogue, to give up its nuclear weapons, to treat humans with respect and dignity, none of which seemed to be the case. The prisons are still full, labor camps are still active, and there’s just still no sign of any sort of improvement on human rights from the North Koreans, one of the reasons why the claims of this being a charity game were met with such skepticism.

Rodman now says alcohol played a role in his calling the North Korean leader a friend.

Rodman now says alcohol played a role in his calling the North Korean leader a friend.

David: Well, we know nothing about what’s going on in North Korea. There was a report that Kim Jong-Un last week fed his uncle to the dogs, and now we’re being told that just might be apocryphal.

Sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea, is it possible his real sponsor isn’t Paddy Power, but our intelligence agencies.

Hayes: I mean, anything is possible, but the U.S. government has been very vehement that Rodman has been acting as a private citizen. When questioned directly, they’ve said that they have not debriefed him on his trips. If they actually are the sponsor of Rodman going to North Korea, they are lying straight to the face of the media without blinking.

David: Yeah, because our intelligence agencies would never lie to us. The NSA…

Hayes: Paragons of honesty, those guys. But on this one, I’m pretty sure that Dennis Rodman is not the secret ambassador to North Korea.

David: It’s so bipolar, it just might work. I mean, it’s beyond crazy. No one would believe that Dennis Rodman was working for the NSA. But we know with certainty that North Korea is probably the worst of the worst, right?

According to our guest nobody is sure if Kim Jong Un is really running North Korea.

According to our guest nobody is sure if Kim Jong Un is really running North Korea.

Hayes: I would agree with that. I mean, it’s not just the U.S. and its allies saying this. A United Nations investigator early this year said that he had not seen the sort of atrocities perpetrated in North Korea since the time of the Nazis. That’s not an American government official, that’s someone from the United Nations saying this. And we get all these horror stories out from the defectors who actually make it out, the ones who risk their lives to cross the border to leave North Korea.

David: How old is Kim Jong-Un?

Hayes: That’s a great question. No one is really sure. They think his birthday is Wednesday, but that’s a guess. So one of the things is that this game is supposedly kind of a birthday present for Kim the younger. I think he’s supposed to be in his late 20’s, like 28, maybe 29. That’s one of the things about North Korea, their isolation is so all-encompassing.

David: It would be great if the NSA could find out what’s going on in North Korea.

Hayes: They’re trying as hard as they can, but North Korea is just so hard to penetrate that it’s almost impossible to get information out, even with our top people on it.

David: Maybe they should take a break from spying on Americans and find out what’s going on in North Korea.

Hayes Brown covers national security issues for ThinkProgress.org.

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Is America A Police State?

Dr. Robert Brame On America’s Increasing Taste For Locking Americans Up

  • 50% percent of black males and 40% of white males will be arrested by the time they’re 23, according to Dr. Brame’s new study.
  • Is America a police state?
  • An arrest record, with no conviction, can make it impossible to find a job in some states.
  • Violent crime has plummeted yet the number of Americans getting arrested continues to rise.
  • Dr. Brame says nobody’s sure of the role Roe versus Wade plays in the sharp dip in violent crime.

Listen to the original broadcast.

Now comes news that nearly 40% of white males in America are arrested by the time they’re 23.  Is America a police state? Joining us is Dr. Robert Brame. He is a Criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, and the lead author of this study.

Police state? 50 percent of black males in America will be arrested by the time they're 23.

Police state? Nearly 50 percent of black males in America will be arrested by the time they’re 23.

David: Dr. Brame, nearly 40% of white men have been arrested by the time they’re 23. So America either has a serious problem with white men or the police, which means America has a serious problem with white men.

Now, these are arrests, not incarcerations. My son’s best friend is black. At the age of 18, he was arrested for marijuana possession. Never convicted, but ended up spending a week in the L.A. County jail, and then was sent home.

Does that count as an incarceration, or does that count simply as an arrest?

Dr. Brame: Well, that’s an arrest, followed by a period of detention.

40% of white men have been arrested by the time they're 23.

Police state? Nearly 40% of white men have been arrested by the time they’re 23.

David: So you can spend a week in the county jail and that’s just an arrest, not an incarceration?

Dr. Brame: That’s not what we normally think of as incarceration. So that experience you just described would be an arrest with a period of pre-trial detention.

David: If you’ve been arrested but never convicted, certainly that doesn’t show up on your record, right? When you’re looking for a job, running for office or applying to college, having been arrested but not convicted, that doesn’t show up on your record, right?

An Arrest Often Remains Part of  Your Police Record

Dr. Brame:  You have to take into consideration that the laws that govern the use of criminal history records vary tremendously from state to state. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing is that an employer can ask you many questions on a job application. So if an employer wants to ask you about whether you’ve ever been arrested or not, unless the state has a law that governs the kinds of questions about criminal history that can be asked, they can ask you that question. You, as an applicant, decide whether to answer that truthfully or not.

Dr. Brame: Just having an arrest record with no conviction can affect opportunities to get a license in some states, it can affect your eligibility to get student loans, it can affect your relationships with friends and family. Yes, it can affect you if you’ve been arrested without being convicted, certainly.

David: Professor Brame, violent crime is down dramatically in America. What do you say to those who maintain this is all good, we introduce Americans to the criminal justice system at an early age, and it scares them straight?

Dr. Brame: The basic idea that you lay out is correct. Homicides today in the United States, the homicide rate today is as low as it’s been since the early 1960’s. That’s a fact.

Dr. Brame: What we’re not sure of is how much of that is due to criminal justice system policies, or, on the other hand, how much of it is due to other things that are not as much under the control of the criminal justice system, or other things that are under the control of the criminal justice system, but they are different than arrests.

For example, putting more police on the street or the decline of crack cocaine markets have both been proposed as potential explanations for the crime decline, and those don’t really have anything at all to do with how often people are arrested.

Dr. Brame: But it would be an unjustified leap from the evidence at this point to say that the violent crime declines that we’ve seen say in the last 20 years or so, that those are due to arresting people more often. I don’t think that’s consistent with the evidence we have right now.

Has Roe v. Wade Played Any Role In Violent Crime Dropping?

America's incarceration rate has spiked since Reagan became president.

Police state? America’s incarceration rate has spiked since Reagan became president.

David:  Is there any evidence to suggest that Roe v. Wade is responsible for the precipitous drop in violent crime?

Dr. Brame: I don’t think the research on that speaks with one voice, so I think it’s fair to say that research is controversial. And I don’t think we have a good consensus understanding of the effects of changes in abortion laws and abortion guidelines on violent crime.

David:  If getting slapped by your father, an authority figure, sends you into therapy, what does being thrown to the ground and arrested by a police officer do to a 16-year-old white male?

Dr. Brame:  To me, it would be traumatic. This is where the research needs to go is to try to understand this. We look at the effects of the types of schools that kids go to, we look at the effects of the types of food they eat, how much TV they watch, we look at the effects of all those sorts of experiences on life outcomes. Given how widespread arrest experiences are, we need to better understand what the total effects of the arrest experience is, both beneficial and harmful on people’s future behavior.

So that’s one of the issues we are hoping to shed light on with this research and future research.

David: Is this our nature? Have we always been arresting people?

Dr. Brame:  I think we have a lot more police officers in schools today than we used to. We’re much more likely to arrest people for certain kinds of drug offenses, domestic violence, dating violence kinds of issues that maybe then weren’t as likely to result in arrests a generation ago. Unfortunately, no simple answer to that question.

Dr. Robert Brame is a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.

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Have you been arrested? Do you fear America is becoming a police state?  Please join the conversation below.

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All Of Maz Jobrani

maz jobrani

Maz’s new comedy special is entitled I Come In Peace. Our full interview with Comedian Maz Jobrani who talks about performing all over the world, and what is happening in Iran. Haz has made appearances on shows like The Colbert Report, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Talkshow with Spike Feresten, “Whitney”, and regularly performs at top comedy clubs (in California and New York) such as The Comedy Store. He made an appearance as a dental patient on an episode of Still Standing, in the pilot episodes of Better Off Ted, The Knights of Prosperity, on an episode of Cedric the Entertainer Presents and on an episode of The West Wing as a Saudi prince. He also made an appearance in 13 Going on 30. He has toured with the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. He provided the voice of Ahmed Farahnakian in the audiobook version of World War Z. Jobrani has
Jobrani makes occasional appearances on NPR’s news quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

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