Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 12, 2013

Three Documentaries of Note

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:25 pm

Opening at the Quad Cinema in N.Y. today (nationwide screening info: http://tacma.net/tacma.php), “Terms and Conditions May Apply” (TACMA, as it is known in the industry) marks the serendipitous arrival of a documentary that explains exactly why Edward Snowden risked a long prison term—or worse—to reveal how Obama and the NSA are laying the groundwork for a police state. The title of the film refers to those prolix, legalese documents that you are supposed to mark “agreed” if you want to use some nifty free software. Even if your assent is not required, they are available on the manufacturer’s website in order to provide the legal basis for turning over your private information to the snoops. Basically, buried within the contract is your acknowledgement that Facebook, Micro$oft, or Google can do whatever they want with the information that you put on the Internet.

Today’s N.Y. Times reveals how topical Cullen Hoback’s swiftly paced and highly informative film is:

Microsoft has collaborated with the National Security Agency more extensively than it previously acknowledged, providing the spy agency with up-to-date access to its customer data whenever the company changes its encryption and related software technology, according to a new report based on disclosures by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden.

Quoting classified internal N.S.A. newsletters obtained from Mr. Snowden, The Guardian newspaper reported that Microsoft had helped the security agency find ways to circumvent its encryption on its Outlook.com portal’s encrypted Web chat function, and that the agency was given what The Guardian described as “pre-encryption stage” access to e-mail on Outlook, including Hotmail e-mail.

Zeroing in on the corporations whose pretenses to respecting privacy are the greatest, the film digs up every TACMA that Google has ever issues and shows how the persistently intrusive provisions are a hallmark of the company’s way of doing business. All except the first TACMA document can be retrieved from the company’s website or in Internet archives like Wayback.com. All except one. That is very first one which stipulated that Google will not use your private information, specifically the websites you have visited (which can be as wide-ranging and compromising as kiddie-porn to al-Qaeda.) Now, of course, all that information is stored on the NSA databases. The film makes the intriguing point that such massive surveillance is only made possible by the drastic reduction of hardware costs. Today a $280 Dell laptop comes with a 32 gigabyte hard-drive (32 billion effectively). The million dollar IBM 360s that I began working on in 1970 came equipped with a 2314 disk array that typically held 70 million bytes or so.

The net result of this is an escalation of “Minority Report” type arrests in order to prevent a crime from happening based on what someone said on Facebook, the one company that has been eager to supply the NSA whatever it asks for (unlike Twitter). There are some telling scenes of George W. Bush cozying it up with the Facebook employees from the stage at some company bash. Thankfully, the film nails Obama for his broken promises about the need to protect privacy.

One of the more egregious cases of abuse involves a writer for the TV crime show “Cold Case”. After Googling “How to kill your wife” and entering other such incriminating searches for background on a script, a heavily armed Philadelphia Swat Team came to his house looking for a murderer.

By the same token, the huge online databases make it a lot easier for a Bradley Manning or a Edward Snowden to become whistle-blowers. When Daniel Ellsberg decided to reveal the Pentagon Papers to the world, he had to sneak out a batch of documents each night and Xerox them on Tony LaRussa’s girlfriend’s machine. That girlfriend, by the way, was Lynda Resnick the crooked brains along with her husband behind Fiji mineral water and Pom Wonderful juice. This was the last time she did anything honorable.

The film relies on a bevy of experts from Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired who is very much committed to privacy, to Moby, the electronic rock musician who has added Internet privacy to his other causes—vegetarianism and animal rights. Although she is only on camera for less than a minute, I was pleased to see Zeynep Tukfeci discuss the issues of security and privacy. Long ago Zeynep was the one of the moderators of the mailing list that preceded Marxmail and I only knew her through email exchanges, as is the case with hundreds of others.

For me the most deeply satisfying scene was director Cullen Hoback showing up unannounced on the sidewalk in front of Mark Zuckerberg’s mansion while the boy genius was out for a morning constitutional. Zuckerberg was annoyed that he had been ambushed in “Sixty Minutes” style and asked Hoback to turn off his camera. Once he agreed to do that, he would answer his questions. Hoback replied that he was turning off the camera. After he did, a smile came across a more relaxed Zuck for the first time. Little did he suspect that Hoback would continue to film with a concealed camera. Hoback tells us that wouldn’t we all smile if we had assurances from the Zuckerberg’s of the world that they would stop violating our privacy?

The film includes a reference to Zuckerberg’s attitude toward privacy, one that makes it clear that Washington and Silicon Valley are co-conspirators in a scheme to replicate the Stasi in the United States. The following exchange took place between Zuckerberg and a friend shortly after Facebook was launched from his Harvard dorm room:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

“Oxyana” is a grim report on the Oxycontin epidemic in West Virginia focused on Oceana, a remote and isolated town that has lost all its coal jobs.

Despite the rugged beauty of the surrounding mountains, the town is mired in despair with just about everybody knowing someone who has died from an overdose.

The film follows a simple narrative, relying exclusively on interviews with the poignant and often profane addicts. Despite the lack of any experts in the field of drug addiction or economic/labor issues, the film tells you about all you need to know about why people get hooked on pills.

A dentist who admits to offering far too many Oxycontin prescriptions to his patients after starting his practice refers to “Appalachian Fatalism”. He describes this as a sense of being unable to control one’s fate, understandable in a case where the coal companies buy up the land one has owned for generations. After they have mined all the coal, they leave the miners to fend for themselves. The only way to make a living in towns like Oceana is selling pills nowadays.

While I understand the need for this powerful documentary to focus on those who have become addicted, I could not help but think about the role of politicians and trade union bureaucrats in making such a hell possible. Democrats and Republicans alike give the nod to mountaintop removal and tax evasion, while the bureaucrats cut deals with the bosses to eliminate jobs in the chase after profits.

First shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013, “Oxyana” can be watched from the film’s official website (http://www.oxyana.com) for only $3.99. You can also buy a DVD for $19.99.

Finally there is “The Women Workers’ War”, a 55-minute documentary about a 550-day occupation of Tacconi Sud, a factory that turns out tents for the Italian military. The owners have just fired its all female work force as the first step in a sale to new owners. The women decide to occupy the plant in order to force bankruptcy proceedings in court. A judgment that it is bankrupt would make them eligible for severance. Without giving away too much, I can say that they emerge victorious. The publicist asked me to inform others about the film, which also showed at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival earlier in the year, even if there are no plans afoot to screen it again. The more that people hear about this modest jewel of a film, the more likely it is that it will be screened again.

2 Comments »

  1. A comment from my old friend, the novelist Richard Greener:

    Louis…

    I have Googled many similar subjects as part of my literary research, and I’ve always wondered if and when the knock on the door was coming. Closest I’ve come was when I was in a jury pool of 156 on a death penalty, first-degree murder case in Atlanta. When I was voir diered(sp), the first question I was asked was: “Mr. Greener, do you believe Leonard Martin was justified in killing all those people?” They had actually read my books!

    We all live in constant jeopardy…

    Richie

    Comment by louisproyect — July 13, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  2. I thought the folks in Oceana would be basking in their white privilege ?

    Comment by purple — July 14, 2013 @ 4:28 am


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