Documentaries, Society

The Cyberweapons Race Has Begun

Alex Gibney’s latest documentary film covers the phenomenon surrounding the Stuxnet computer virus and the development of the malware software known as “Olympic Games“. The Stuxnet worm, a groundbreaking virus jointly created by the US and Israel, has the power to cripple nuclear plants and more.

Gibney’s film, Zero Days (2016), documents several aspects of this particular cyberweapon: from how the virus got into the relevant networks, to what it actually did when it got there, to how it was discovered (and whose fault that was) and the fact that no one in the United States or Israel has ever acknowledged its existence. Continue reading

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Documentaries, Society

Hollywood Caricatures

Hollywood films seem like the biggest advertisements for the United States of America. Action movies show muscled heroes saving cities like New York and Los Angeles from certain danger. Family dramas live in American suburbs, while romantic comedies maze through the downtown restaurants and bars. Westerns hearken back to frontier times and science fiction marvels at American space exploration.

In addition to the best aspects of Americana, films also showcase the worst prejudices within American society as explored in two documentaries: Reel Injun (2009) and Reel Bad Arabs (2006). Continue reading

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Society

A World That Neglects Refugees

There are more than 15 million refugees around the world. 15 million people who have been forced to leave their home country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. An additional 38 million people are also escaping their home but remain “internally displaced,” resettling or moving inside their country’s borders.

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In addition to the rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), this year marked the closure of two very different refugee camps. One camp–in France–is the last stop for many Arab and African refugees seeking to make their way to the UK. Another camp–in Kenya–has become the largest refugee camp in the world after its creation 25 years ago.

These two camps, both closing in 2016, point to the tremendous failure of the global community to help refugees find peace. Continue reading

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Books, Society

Selling Off the UK Government to the Lowest Bidder

Government outsourcing–contracting private companies to provide public services–can produce amazing results. The process links government revenue with business tools. When a government’s own in-house capacity is limited, contracting private companies can be an essential solution, whether it’s providing stationary or building bridges.

Outsourcing can also be a stressful exercise, as John Glenn, American astronaut and the fifth person to go into space, responded when asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule getting ready to launch and listening to the countdown: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Continue reading

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Documentaries, Society

Black Power and the Black Panthers

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Writing for Jacobin Magazine, Robert Greene II discusses the lasting relevance of the Black Panthers and their anti-racist, anti-capitalist vision:

The work of the Black Panthers remains important for several reasons. First, they remind us that the problem of police brutality has long been with us (Martin Luther King, Jr even mentioned it in his oft-cited, but often misinterpreted, “I Have A Dream” speech). Indeed, protests following the death of Denzil Dowell in North Richmond, a community near Oakland, in April 1967 played a major role in the growth of the BPP from a small cadre to a major political and social force.

Second, the BPP offers a good model of grassroots activism and ideology in practice. While the group was torn apart by conflicts between Newton and Cleaver by the 1970s, the Panthers continued to do important work on the ground in Oakland. Their “survival programs” appealed to African Americans living in poverty who were unable to depend on local government for any help. And crucially, they tied their free breakfast and education programs to a larger political project. An ingenious mix of the practical and the visionary, the BPP’s community work was the most revolutionary work they carried out.

The Black Panther Party also proved an important training ground for African-American women activists, such as Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine Brown. As with the Civil Rights Movement, women members did a great deal of the nuts-and-bolts work in the BPP.

Finally, the legacy of the Black Panther Party can be seen in the current Black Lives Matter movement. The Movement for Black Lives’ demands for economic justice, community power, and reparations recall the Black Panther Party’s ten-point platform. And, like the Black Power and Civil Rights movements, the Black Lives Matter movement has had to deal time and again with negative media coverage and a “go-slow” critique from many American liberals.

Today, fifty years after its founding, the Panthers should be remembered for more than their black berets and shotguns. Despite their flaws, they melded the immediate and the transformative into a potent political vision, advocating a multiracial alliance against racism, capitalism, and imperialism that delivered tangible gains to the most exploited. That vision is equally as stirring today.

Continue reading

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