The Preston Model: Empowering Local Economies

Building the Local Economy: From Preston, UK to Cleveland, OH

Produced by Laura Flanders (2018)

Film Review

This is a fascinating documentary about empowering local communities. It offers an in depth exploration of the so-called “Preston Model” of community wealth building.The Preston Model is based on the “Evergreen Model,” adopted by Cleveland’s cooperative movement. Although the UK city of Preston (pop 130,000) is much smaller than Cleveland, the economies of both communities have been devastated by the loss of heavy industry that previously supported them.

The goal of both models is to strengthen local economies by

  • promoting buy-local campaigns
  • actively procuring local investment
  • lobbying local government and “anchor” agencies (schools, hospitals, etc) to buy locally
  • pressuring local government to invest pension funds and tax remittances in local businesses
  • investing in apprenticeships and retraining programs
  • campaigning for a living wage in all industries.

The most interesting part of the film is an interview with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Preston’s MP), who explains how the Labour Party is systematically rolling out similar programs in other councils they control.

 

 

Hacking for a Living

Internet Hackers in 2017

First Documentary (2017)

Film Review

This documentary provides a general overview of black hat, white hat and gray hat hacking. A black hat hacker hacks into government and/or corporate IT systems for criminal or political gain. At the time of filming, black hats had worked out how to hack into and disrupt high speed trains, blast furnaces, computerized SUVs and baby monitors. A white hacker hacks into corporate IT systems and alerts them to potential security vulnerabilities in return for a “bounty.”*

The private security industry is a billion dollar industry. According to the filmmakers, the US Secret Service has primary responsibility for investigating cyber crimes that threaten the security of US “financial markets.” Meanwhile the US military trains up future soldiers in the art of cyberwarfare.

The last half of the film concerns the current culture of surveillance we presently live in. For the most part, citizens of the industrialized world have traded privacy for security and convenience. In addition to ubiquitous CCTV cameras in most urban centers, Smartphones track people wherever they go. Most users are aware that Google, Facebook and AT&T spy on them and collect (and sell) their personal data but don’t seem to care.

The documentary also raises the alarm regarding the extreme vulnerability of modern computerized infrastructure to both cyber attack and natural events, such as solar storms. Solar flares nearly shut down all computerized infrastructure in 2012, 2013 and 2014. One black hat hacker interviewed by filmmakers claims it would only take him an hour to bring down the whole Internet.


*Sounds to me like a garden variety protection racket. I hate to think what happens to companies who refuse to pay the bounty.

 

 

 

Linux: Escaping Microsoft’s Clutches Via Open Source

The Code: The Story of Linux

Directed by Hann Puttonen (2011)

Film Review

This documentary tells the story of Finnish programmer Linus Torvolds and his creation, in 1991, of the open source operating system Linux.

In contrast to Microsoft Windows, not only is Linux be freely downloadable off the Internet, but the source code used to run it is freely available for other programmers to improve on. In the last 26 years, millions of programmers from all over the world have helped improve on Linux. As a result, Linux-based operating systems are far more reliable than Windows and Mac operating systems that profit from keeping their source code private. They are also far less prone to security flaws (such as the one Wannacry and similar ransomware prey on).

In addition to greater reliability, many Linux fans are philosophically opposed (as I am) to the practice of limiting access to software and source code to those with the ability to pay for it. This directly conflicts with World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a free Internet access to everyone regardless of income or status.

The filmmakers maintain that Linux (as a freely downloadable operating system) represents the biggest transfer of wealth from the industrial north to the third world. Its easy access is also largely responsible for China’s impressive IT advances.

Although anyone can download Linux free from the Internet, most users prefer to access it through Red Hat and similar commercial entities specializing in installing Linux and providing technical support to its users. Linux is also the operating system of choice in home appliance computers.

Taxing Amazon and Starbucks: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Low Income Housing

According to the The Guardian, Seattle City Council has passed a new tax that will charge large corporations $275 annually per worker to help address the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

About 60% of the tax revenue will go to new housing projects for low and middle-income Seattle residents. The remainder would go to homeless services, including shelter beds, camps and overnight parking.

Source: Tax Amazon: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Housing

Russian Sami Organize to Fight Mining Operations

Russia’s Tundra Tale

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Free link: Russia’s Tundra Tale

This documentary concerns the battle of the indigenous Sami people of Russia’s Kola Peninsula to protect their Arctic homeland against encroachment by mining companies. The mining operations (fossil fuels, platinum, gold and aluminum) are destroying the pasture of the reindeer herds the Sami depend on for their livelihood. Unable to support their families, many have abandoned the tundra for Russian cities. Those who stayed are  organizing to preserve their collectively owned land.

Most of the political organizing is done by Sami women. To counter the Russian government, which tends to support the mining interests, the Sami have set up their own parliament in Murmansk. Sami women are also working to strengthen community solidarity in their villages.

One parliament member, a Sami woman named Sascha, is shown meeting with a potential reindeer farm more financially viable. Filmmakers also follow her to Norway, where she meets with Sami activists who employ direct action (eg a hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament) to force concessions from Norway’s mining industry. Linking up with Sami activists in Norway, Finland and Sweden has greatly enhanced the strengthen of Russia’s Sami movement.

Cities Take Back Power

Power to the City

VPRO (2014)

Film Review

This documentary argues for shifting major political power away from countries to cities, in part due to the current paralysis national governments face in enacting legislation and in part to the greater likelihood of bottom-up democratic participation in decisions that are made locally.

The filmmakers interview various political scientists who argue for a return to the system of city-state governance that was prevalent prior to the era of colonization.

They give three recent examples in which cities have collaborated with grassroots citizens movements to enact reforms which went on to have major national and global influence:

1. Seattle (Washington) – which in 2014 voted to enact a mandatory $15/hr living wage.

2. Eindhoven (Netherlands) – where citizens collaborated with business leaders and elected officials to create a high tech hub to replace 36,000 jobs that were lost overseas.

3. Hamburg (Germany) – which has  retained its pre-1871 city-state governance structure as a federal state within the German federation. As such, it takes on numerous functions normally performed by a national or state government – such as collecting taxes and running schools and universities. It allows its citizens to enact legislation by binding referendum, and in 2014 they voted to buy back the energy grid from a private Swedish company (to hasten its transformation to renewable energy).

 

Granny Fight Club: Elderly Kenyan Women Learn to Fight Off Rapists

Granny Fight Club

RT (2017)

Film Review

Granny Fight Club is an RT documentary about the self defense program in Korogocho Kenya that teaches elderly women to fend off prospective rapists.

The deliberate rape of elderly women is an increasing problem in Kenyan slums – largely due to the prevailing myth that raping a grandmother will cure a younger man of AIDS.

The women are taught a strategy that relies mainly on self-confidence and a loud aggressive voice. However they also practice delivering blows to vulnerable areas of a man’s body.