I was jotting notes on my analysis of Kristen Stewart's new film, Personal Shopper, and the notes morphed into more than just notes. I'm posting what I've got for participants in an upcoming an MeatWorld discussion, but if any readers have seen the film, feel free to weigh-in. I've got about 1/2 of my thoughts written up. No spoilers are included, but Part 2 will probably include spoilers, so you might wish to skip it if you haven't seen the film.
When the German occupation of Denmark ended in 1945, two million German land mines had to be cleared from the Danish west coast. Some 2,000 German soldiers, many of them teenagers, were forced to defuse and remove the mines. In the epilogue of the German-Danish film, Land of Mine, we learn that half of these German soldiers died and many more were severely injured and disabled.
Land of Mine opens with a hardened Danish army sergeant, Carl Rasmussen, shouting at German soldiers as they depart occupied Denmark on foot. Rasmussen spots one German carrying a folded Danish flag. He rips away the flag and beats the man mercilessly.
Sgt. Rasmussen is on his way to a remote beach posting where he will lead about 20 young German prisoners assigned to clear thousands of mines. To Sgt. Rasmussen, these Germans are the monsters who occupied his country, committing unspeakable atrocities against his countrymen, so he treats them accordingly. The soldiers look young at the outset, but as the film progresses they appear even younger as they cry for their mothers, play with beetles and dream about girls. As he sees the youth and humanity of these soldiers, Sgt Rasmussen's decency emerges in fits and starts.
We also meet young Danish Lt. Ebbe, whose bearing and sadistic attitude toward the prisoners conveys an unmistakably Nazi sensibility. If we aren't careful, we can become the monsters we defeat.
The message in this film is obvious, but still compellingly rendered. This film is difficult to watch as the German boys are killed and maimed in horrific explosions, but the tension during the mine-clearing scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Land of Mine was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it was deserving of the nomination. It would have been better if more ambiguity had been introduced in the form of evidence that some of these young German soldiers had themselves committed atrocities before their surrender. We’re left to assume that possibility, but making it explicit would lend an air of greater authenticity to Sgt. Rasmussen’s struggle to recover and maintain his sense of decency.
X-o-meter rating: 90/100
German and Danish with English subtitles. Graphic violence.
Days after a report on federal student loans revealed a double-digit rise in defaults, President Trump’s administration revoked federal guidance Thursday that barred student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans.
The Education Department is ordering guarantee agencies that collect on defaulted debt to disregard a memo former President Barack Obama’s administration issued on the old bank-based federal lending program, known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. That memo forbid the agencies from charging fees for up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest owed on the loans, if the borrower entered the government’s loan rehabilitation program within 60 days of default.
The Obama administration issued the memo after a circuit court of appeals asked for guidance in a case against United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) challenging the assessment of collection costs. Bryana Bible took the company to court after being charged $4,547 in collection costs on a loan she defaulted on in 2012. Though she had signed a “rehabilitation agreement” with USA Funds to set a reduced payment schedule to resolve her debt, the company assessed the fees.
The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.
“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.
There are many things I could say about this, but I'll just note that student loan debt is a huge part of consumer debt, yet these debtors enjoy none of the protections of bankruptcy that other debtors enjoy. While bankruptcy law was conceived to benefit creditors by providing an orderly collection process among competing creditors, bankruptcy law also provides de facto protection of debtors who have no hope of financial recovery. The wealthiest Americans especially enjoy these protections vis-à-vis the corporate shield and corporate bankruptcy laws, allowing them to walk away from billions in debt every year. Trump himself has walked away from billions in debt*. I wonder how many Trump supporters have a heartless attitude toward student debtors, while dismissing Trump's many bankruptcies as a non-issue?
*A close friend--an attorney turned investment banker--worked for Trump in a major bankruptcy case.
Business Insider interviewed Bill Browder, author of Red Notice. Browder was a heavyweight investor in Russia until he ran into trouble with Putin's government. After he left Russia, his Russian lawyer was jailed and murdered. Excerpt:
Jeff Schechtman: Have we all gone a little crazy with our obsession with Russia of late or are there really things happening that we should genuinely be concerned about?
Bill Browder: Well, there’s been stuff that we should’ve been genuinely concerned about for the last 15 years while Vladimir Putin has been running Russia and it’s been a slow catchup from perception to reality. Putin is a different type of leader than any other head of state in that Putin has been stealing money hand over fist to the tune of 200 billion dollars* for himself in his presidency. Russia is effectively a mafia organization in which he’s the capo and the only difference between this mafia organization and the Colombian mafia or the Italian mafia is that Vladimir Putin controls thousands of nuclear warheads.
Jeff Schechtman: Is this all about the money for Putin? Is there a grander foreign policy vision? Is there a grander plan for greater Russia or is it really just about the money?
Bill Browder: Well, it replays with itself. Putin started out just for the money. So, when he first came into power, he wanted to get as much money as he could as quickly as he could. To do so, he had to put a lot of people in jail, he had a lot of people arrested, he had a lot of people killed. Over the course of time, he created a lot of enemies and one thing he also did was, while he was stealing money for himself and the people around him, the top people in Russia were stealing money as well, the average Russian was basically getting nothing. If you were a regular middle class Russian, they don’t have medicine in the hospitals, the teachers aren’t being paid at the schools, there’s huge holes in the roads because they’re not filling them. The country was basically crumbling while Putin and his cronies and his oligarchs were sailing around on superyachts or flying around on Boeing business jets and so on and so forth. After a while, people started to get upset and Putin said to himself, what am I going to do to make sure these people don’t overthrow me? And so that’s when he started this whole idea of creating foreign enemies, invading foreign countries and creating this false scenario that Russia is being surrounded and potentially invaded so they need to fight all these enemies. This grand plan of fighting in Ukraine and fighting in Syria is all a huge distraction strategy to keep people from turning on Putin and saying why don’t we have medicine and you’re rich?
This reminds me of an investigation of Putin aired by Frontline 2 years ago.
*Estimates of Putin's wealth range from $40bn to $200bn.