TCH110 - Weekly Films

Foresight Movie Nights
Wednesdays, 6:00pm-8:30pm, in the Theatre @ UAT
Limited refreshments provided (first come, first served!).

Students must watch at least seven of these fifteen films over the semester, and attendance is taken. In-class discussion, engaging in discussion questions in class after each film (see below, when provided), is the only homework. We will get into some "tough questions" in discussion, in the 30-45 minutes right after each film. Your participation in discussions is part of your class participation evaluation, so please, speak your mind. Any tougher questions that we should have asked? Any rewording you would suggest? Help us make these films even better for future classes!

Week 1
The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, 2007 
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 2
Future Living 2025, Discovery Channel, 2007
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 3
2057: The Body, The City, The World (3 Episodes), Discovery Channel
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 4
Beyond Human, Thomas Lucas, Episode 2: Living Machines, PBS, 2001 
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 5
Commanding Heights, Episode 1: The Battle of Ideas, Daniel Yergin, 2002 
Discussion Questions: 

  • Is a free market “necessary but not sufficient” for a functioning democracy, as Friedrich Von Hayek and his colleagues contend? If so or if not, why? In what ways may our global market economies of the 2000's and beyond be “less free” than our market economies of the early 1900's? Does this mean we have poorer democracies today than we had in the early 1900's? 
  • If our largest corporations continue to become even more global and economically powerful than governments in coming decades, what are the upsides and downsides of living in a low-regulation free market economy?
  • “The Battle of Ideas” notes that control of the “commanding heights” (leading industries) of the world’s largest economies went from a corporate-owned, free market model in 1900, to a high point of government ownership and control (state socialism) in 1950’s, to a more free market model again by 2000. Do you expect another big swing back to either more government ownership or more governmental regulation in leading industries in coming generations (a pendulum model), or do you think the battle for the commanding heights is basically over, a battle the corporations have permanently won? If so, will today’s markets get more free and less regulated in coming years?
  • The webpage gives several Editors Picks for most interesting discussion items from the Commanding Heights bulletin boards. Do you find yourself agreeing with any of these posts in particular? Disagreeing? Pick one and tell us what you agree and disagree with (if anything). Did any of these posts make you think differently about what you saw in the film? If so, how?
Week 6
Commanding Heights, Episode 3: The New Rules of the Game, Daniel Yergin, 2002
Discussion Questions:
  • What did you think of the claim that globalization / free market reforms have lifted 300 million Chinese out of poverty since the 1980's? If true, what kind of good will and interedependency might that create?
  • Did you agree with the characterization that it isn't the role of protest movements, like the anti-WTO protesters, to provide solutions, but rather to "stake out an extreme position in the debate," which in turn gives those insiders sympathetic to the protesters some "negotiation room" to push for more moderate reforms?
  • Do you think the "Asian Contagion" of the late 1990's could happen again? Is the sudden loss of confidence in a country's economy, and the massive capital flight that can ensue in a very short time, a good thing, to keep any nation from mismanaging their economies, or is it a new source of potential catastrophe for the citizens of the developing world (the way we saw in Indonesia in the late 1990's)?
Week 7
World in the Balance: The Population Paradox , NOVA, 2004 
Discussion Questions:
  • If Japan shrinks to half its current population by the end of the century, with 1/3 of those being senior citizens, as current trends forecast, will this be a problem for Japan, or a good thing for the global environment? Could advanced AI and robotics help solve this problem for Japan, and keep their social security solvent, or is that a dangerous fantasy? If you were a Japanese long-term planner today, how would you approach these questions?
  • If Africa's population swells to three times the size of Europe by 2050 (it was 1/3 the size of Europe in 1950) as the film claims, what new problems might this introduce in Africa and for the world? Are there any benefits to such a rapid population growth, and if so, to who? Are there any effective ways to induce Africans to choose a lower population growth in the next 50 years? How important is this problem on the list of global priorities?
  • How will we prevent rapidly rising standards of living and mass consumption in China, India, and the rest of the developed world from creating environmental catastrophes, economic catastrophes due to resource shortages, and new military conflicts motivated by resource acquistion contests?
Week 8
Why We Fight, Eugene Jarecki, 2006
Discussion Questions:
  • What do you think of the claim that this is the first time the US has "elected a defense contractor as Vice President"? Should Cheney have been made to step down once Operation Iraqi Freedom got under way?Was this a conflict of interest?
  • What did you think of the claims regarding the size of US Defense Spending (defense expenditures greater than all other discretionary US spending combined, US defense spending greater than all NATO partners combined)? Do these seem accurate? Do they seem appropriate?
  • What did you think of the level of congressional oversight and debate over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
  • What did you think of the quality and objectivity of media coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
  • Did the US invade Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom under false pretenses? Were there WMDs? Was war motivated by good foreign policy? By commercial interests? Some combination of both?
  • Do you think the present state of the US Military Industrial Complex (MIC) has risen to a position of "undue influence" over our democracy, as Eisenhower warned against in 1960? Of the four components of the MIC identified in the film: (Military, Industry, Government, and Think Tanks) how would you rank them in terms of influence on US foreign policy? Is there anything you would change, if you could, about the current US MIC?
Week 9
The Corporation (Special Edition), Mark Achbar, 2004
Discussion Questions:
  • How can we get to triple-bottom line accounting (economic, environmental, and social impacts) for our largest corporations?
  • What should the media's role be in creating "social accountability" of corporations? How can the mediahelp us generate ratings of corporations on their social and environmental responsibility?
  • What role can government play in improving corporate sustainabilty? Should environmental pollution rights become tradable commodities?
  • Should the government require large corporations to report "equity statistics," such as the percentage of offshore workers salaries represented in the retail price of products sold, the multiplier between the highest paid and the lowest paid employee, and the percentage of workers (temp, contract) that don't receive benefits?
  • Are incentives for greater stock ownership by citizens one way to make corporations more broadly accountable? How effectively can citizens reform corporations through such avenues as stock ownership, the government, the legal system, the media, and direct action (boycotts, consumer ratings, etc.)?
  • What did you think of the film's treatment of the issue of patenting living organisms? Was it sensationalistic? Isn't a patent just a public trust given under temporary conditions, to spur innovation? Can't wechange the conditions (duration, review, challenge, etc.) in the patent law if certain classes of patents are being misused?
Week 10
Orwell Rolls in His Grave, Robert Kane Pappas, 2004
Discussion Questions:
  • As US mass media become more centralized, corporate, and subject only to market share ("the numbers") for their performance, media no longer serves its traditional "Fourth Estate" duties to portray the diversity of political and other opinion, to investigate abuses of power, to educate the citizenry, to highlight civic responsibility, and to otherwise protect the public interest. The media and the nation inevitably become more "right wing" in such societies, as the channels of communication are controlled by those with commerce, deregulation, and wealth as primary values. Raymond Smith (The American Anomaly, 2007) notes the values of US citizens have shifted in recent decades to become the most politically conservative of all the developed democracies. To what extent are these changes problems for our nation going forward, and how can we best address them? What kinds of laws would you like to see in media reform?
  • Should we go back to 1980's caps on the number of news outlets that can be owned by one corporation in any one location or market? Is it OK to have a "media duopoly" in such important markets as New York?
  • Should we reinstate the Fairness Doctrine of the 1980's, mandating fair and balanced coverage by the major news media and providing consequences for consistently ignoring the positions of large public constituencies?
  • Should media outlets have the right to decide which paid ads they want to air or not, as they presently routinely do, or should they be denied the ability to deny coverage to opposing views that want to pay for airtime?
  • Should there be some mandated minimum unpaid coverage of politicians issues and campaigns by the television news media, or should they be allowed to keep doing major cutting of their political news coverage as they have for the last three presidential elections, so that the only way politicians can get heard is to buy ads?
  • Should corporations have free speech rights, or is this concept "perverse" as Mark Crispin Miller argues? Should such rights apply only to persons?
  • Should falsifying news reports (as we allegedly saw in The Corporation, with the rGH story on Fox News) be a crime which allows a reporter to receive whistleblower status and legal protection?
  • Do citizens have a first amendment right to "a diversity of antagonistic views" in their media? Is there a difference between theantagonism we see between pundits from the right and left on debate shows (Crossfire, etc.) in big media and the antagonism we see in town hall meetings, academia, NGOs, and other sectors of the public?
  • Should we have laws to ensure that political voting always has a paper trail, and should we be spending more money and effort on independent assessment (exit polls, etc.) of our state and federal elections? Should a citizen's voting be easily made a matter of public record (transparent) at the polls, if that citizen wants it to be public?
  • Cable television was hailed by many in the 1970's as a coming educational and democracy boon, something that would give consumers "hundreds (400-500) of channels of diverse, educational programming." The 80-120 channels the US public ended up getting were highly content-controlled and so expensive to operate that almost all ended up being advertiser driven. Only paid premium content and a handful of public stations were ad free. Will the internet suffer the same fate, as some of the protagonists in this film propose may happen? 
  • Going forward, how do we best protect "Net Neutrality," and keep the internet from becoming as bottled up and centralized as all previous mass media (newspapers, radio, broadcast TV, cable and satellite TV) that have gone before it?
  • Has making significant changes, such as we have discussed above, in the "system of capitalism" become off limits in the corporate-owned media of the United States, in the same way that the "system of communism" was off limits for discussion in the party-owned media of the U.S.S.R.? If so, how do we best build momentum for change?
Week 11
No End In Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos, Charles Ferguson, 2007
Discussion Questions:
  • Is this a partisan film, or do you agree with its central claim that it's simply a film that seeks to ask mid-level managers how the war has been managed during the US occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2007? It doesn't discuss why we got into the war, but rather focuses on its management. To what extent is it's discussion of the management of the war honest and objective, from your perspective?
  • Military victory, occupation, and reconstruction are challenges for which superior short-term thinking (day to day management) and long-term thinking (nation-building, security) are necessary. The film makes the case that major failures in both short-term management and long-term foresight have occurred in the US occupation. Can you think of any reasons why the Bush administration in particular has been vulnerable to failures on the short-term/management side of post-war conduct in Iraq? Can you think of any separate and perhaps independent reasons why the Bush administration has been vulnerable to failures on the long-term/planning/nation-building side of post-war conduct in Iraq?
  • Could we have done a better job anticipating or preventing post-invasion looting and destruction? Does America have a responsibility to reimburse the Iraqi's for the destruction of their extensive museums and the burning of their national libraries, with manuscripts and antiquities dating from the birth of human civilization (7,000 years)? If not, is an apology in order?
  • The film observes that disbanding the Iraqi military, suddenly putting out of work 500,000 soldiers (equivalent to 8 million Americans), individuals with training in the use of arms and munitions, was perhaps the single greatest mistake the US has made in our occupation. Would you agree or disagree? This decision was made by the US White House against the advice of the US military, the US intelligence community, and the US ORHA, and with no consultation of any of these groups. It was a major contributor to the 50% unemployment in Iraq and (in the film's analysis) was the single greatest catalyst of the insurgency. Should the US instead have immediately recalled and kept the original size of the Iraqi military during the occupation? Could it have worked with a corrupt military and slowly made it less corrupt? Is there any precedent in previous occupations for disbanding an entire military?
  • Alternative History Question: Saddam Hussein released 100,000 criminals, many of them violent, from his prisons in the final days of the war. We knew this very early in our occupation. What if US forces had offered substantial rewards for the identification of released violent prisoners early on in our occupation, during the "Honeymoon Period" in the early months of 2003, when US forces were held in high esteem by Iraqi civilians? Would the Iraqi populace and police have helped us in rejailing some of these individuals? How significant might such a policy have been at reducing the subsequent insurgency, and could it have allowed some of the most violent people (at the time) to be taken off the streets?
  • Alternative History Question: What if we had given the Iraqis very low cost cellphones early in the occupation? Wouldn't their increased communications have improved their social fabric? Why do we see so few billboards in Iraqi cities, communicating the policies and needs of the government to the populace, and designed for civic education and order? How hard is it to create a billboard communication network? Why didn't all Iraqi's at least get radios, and the ability to talk about their country, sports, culture, on a network of low power radio stations?
  • If the insurgency and chaos had not been allowed to grow as rapidly as it did in Iraq, would the rise of fundamentalist Sunni and Shiite militias have been curbed? Would Iraq have remained secular, as it was under Saddam Hussein? Is Samantha Powers correct in her assertion that the religious fundamentalist groups armed themselves and became responsible for security in their communities only because the US occupying forces have persistently failed to provide that security themselves and through the Iraqi interim government? Would the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, and between factions within these groups, have been curbed if the Iraqi military had kept a large presence from the beginning of the US occupation?
  • The US occupying force had very few soldiers who could speak Arabic, and very few who understood Iraqi culture. Should the US military and intelligence community extensively hire Arabic speakers from the Arab and international communities into key positions in the post-war security and reconstruction efforts? Should there be incentives in the US military and intelligence community for learning Arabic and Iraqi culture?
  • Does the extensive use of private, for-profit, non-Iraqi contractors in post-war Iraq increase the short-term and short-sighted nature of the reconstruction? How can this be countered?
  • Did the 3 month rotations of CPA personnel increase the short-term and short-sighted nature of the reconstruction? How can this be countered?
  • Did the appointment of just-graduated US college students to key reconstruction jobs in the US CPA increase the short-sighted nature of the reconstruction? How can this be countered?
  • Do we need a tri-state (Kurd, Sunni, Shiite) or even more-state (Sunni and Shiite factions) solution in Iraq and Baghdad today? Would the provision of semi-autonomous states for the more fundamentalist factions of Sunni and Shiite movements allow them to channel more energy into state-building than into fighting each other and resisting the occupation? 
  • Over three million of Iraq's 25 million, many of the country's "best and brightest," have fled out of Iraq in recent years. These industrious, talented, and foresighted folks have left because the security situation has become untenable. Is this massive "brain drain" our responsibility as occupiers, and what can we do to counter its devastating effect on those who are left behind?
  • If you were the National Security Advisor to the US President, what would you advise him or her to do with respect to Iraq, the UN, and the global political community over the next four years (2008-2012)? Can you sum this up in a one page "Executive Summary"?
Week 12
Declining By Degrees: Higher Education at Risk, John Merrow, PBS, 2005
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 13
Who Killed the Electric Car?, Chris Paine, 2006
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 14
Maxed Out: The Movie You Can't Afford to Miss, James Scurlock, 2007
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.
Week 15
Bringing Down a Dictator, Steve York, 2002
Discussion Questions:
  • You Provide.

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