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The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

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Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

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➤ Clemency


2019. USA. Director:  Chinonye Chukwu. Writer:  Chinonye Chukwu. Cast:  Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff, Aldis Hodge.  Running time: 1h52

Synopsis: Bernadine Williams, a Death Row prison warden whose job has taken a psychological toll on her, must confront her demons when she has to execute another inmate. (Imdb)

"There’s little room to breathe in writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s constricting, devastating drama Clemency, an intentionally airless film processing a tough subject through an unusual viewpoint. It was the deserved big winner at Sundance this year, making Chukwu the first black woman to win the Grand Jury prize. Our protagonist is prison warden Bernadine (Alfre Woodard), first seen as she prepares for an execution, methodically going through her mental checklist with calm professionalism while keeping emotions at bay. It might be her 12th but experience only seems to make the process that much harder, a growing awareness that the system she’s a part of might not be something she truly believes in. Any back-burner doubt she might have had soon turns into something far less avoidable after she bears witness to a horrifyingly botched lethal injection. Bernadine is sent into an inner tailspin as she confronts her guilt while also prepping for the next execution, this time for an inmate who insists he’s innocent." (The Guardian, Benjamin Lee)








➤ The Current War

2017. USA. Director:  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Writer:  Michael Mitnick. Cast:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Oliver Powell, Katherine Waterston.  Running time: 1h42

Synopsis: The dramatic story of the cutthroat race between electricity titans Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to determine whose electrical system would power the modern world.

This race incidentally led to the invention and the use of the electric chair as a "humane" way to execute death-row inmates. The first execution took about eight minutes. George Westinghouse later commented that, "They would have done better using an axe."

As Edison expanded his direct current (DC) power delivery system, he received stiff competition from companies installing alternating current (AC) systems. From the early 1880s, AC arc lighting systems for streets and large spaces had been an expanding business in the US. With the development of transformers in Europe and by Westinghouse Electric in the US in 1885–1886, it became possible to transmit AC long distances over thinner and cheaper wires, and "step down" the voltage at the destination for distribution to users. This allowed AC to be used in street lighting and in lighting for small business and domestic customers, the market Edison's patented low voltage DC incandescent lamp system was designed to supply. Edison's DC empire suffered from one of its chief drawbacks. Edison's DC plants could not deliver electricity to customers more than one mile from the plant, and left a patchwork of unsupplied customers between plants. Small cities and rural areas could not afford an Edison style system at all, leaving a large part of the market without electrical service.

AC companies expanded into this gap. Edison expressed views that AC was unworkable and the high voltages used were dangerous. As George Westinghouse installed his first AC systems in 1886, Thomas Edison struck out personally against his chief rival stating, "Just as certain as death, Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size."

Edison took advantage of the public perception of AC as dangerous, and joined with self-styled New York anti-AC crusader Harold P. Brown in a propaganda campaign, aiding Brown in the public electrocution of animals with AC, and supported legislation to control and severely limit AC installations and voltages (to the point of making it an ineffective power delivery system) in what was now being referred to as a "battle of currents".

The development of the electric chair was used in an attempt to portray AC as having a greater lethal potential than DC and smear Westinghouse at the same time via Edison colluding with Brown and Westinghouse's chief AC rival, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, to make sure the first electric chair was powered by a Westinghouse AC generator.

The first person in line to die under New York's new electrocution law  was William Kemmler, convicted of murdering his wife with a hatchet. Kemmler was executed in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890; the "state electrician" was Edwin F. Davis. The first 17-second passage of 1,000 volts AC of current through Kemmler caused unconsciousness, but failed to stop his heart and breathing. The attending physicians, Edward Charles Spitzka and Carlos F. MacDonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming Kemmler was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, "Have the current turned on again, quick, no delay." The generator needed time to re-charge, however. In the second attempt, Kemmler received a 2,000 volt AC shock. Blood vessels under the skin ruptured and bled, and the areas around the electrodes singed. The entire execution took about eight minutes. George Westinghouse later commented that, "They would have done better using an axe", and a witnessing reporter claimed that it was "an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging". (Wikipedia)








➤ Just Mercy


2019. USA. Director: Destin Daniel Cretton. Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham. Cast: Jamie Foxx, Charlie Pye Jr., Michael Harding. Running time: 2h17

Synopsis: "Just Mercy" tells the true story of Walter McMillian, who, with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, appealed his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Stevenson.

In 1989, idealistic young Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson travels to Alabama hoping to help fight for poor people who cannot afford proper legal representation. He meets with Eva Ansley and founds the Equal Justice Initiative, then travels to a prison to meet its death row inmates. He meets Walter "Johnny D." McMillian, an African-American man who was convicted of the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a white woman.

Stevenson looks over the evidence in the case and discovers it hinges entirely on the testimony of convicted felon Ralph Myers, who provided highly self-contradictory testimony in exchange for a lighter sentence in his own pending trial.

Stevenson approaches Myers, who eventually admits that his testimony was coerced after police played to his fear of being burned and threatened to have him executed by electric chair. Stevenson appeals to the local court to grant McMillan a retrial and successfully convinces Myers to recant his testimony on the stand, but the judge nevertheless refuses to grant a retrial. Distraught, Stevenson vents his frustrations about the case to Ansley. He appears on 60 Minutes to rally public support in favor of McMillan, then appeals to the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Supreme Court overturns the circuit court's decision, and grants McMillan his retrial. (Wikipedia)





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