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Friday, September 30, 2005

Giving the finger to the bank, and other tech developments

Biometrics continues its spread into our lives, as ever more and more of what we do and even what we are becomes either public domain, someone else's private property or just becomes less and less the sole property of the human they describe. In Japan, banks plan to introduce a new form of biometric identification: vein readers. The new technology will read the unique vein patterns in the finger. Apparently oblivious to the hilarious coincidence, banks will require customers to insert their middle finger into an electronic reader. The plan is ostensibly to combat certain kinds of fraud. In case you were thinking of chopping off some rich guy's finger, think again. The TimesOnline reports:
The engineers have installed technology that means the severed finger could not be used, because the system only works when presented with veins that have warm blood pumping through them.
Meanwhile, the Deccan Herald reports that researchers have discovered that by scanning liars' brains with an MRI, they can tell with up to 99 percent accuracy whether someone is telling the truth or not. Of course, cops and intelligence services have expressed much interest in the development. The hope, amongst police state fans, is that the devices might be so accurate that they can be admitted in court.

It's unlikely we'll ever see a politician hooked up to one, though. But then, who needs an MRI scan to know a politician is lying? The Economic Times of India has already foreseen this possibility, and in a sarcastic defense of politicians, they cite research into liar's brains that reveals substantial structural differences between the brains of truth-tellers and deceivers. See, it turns out that the question isn't whether politicians lie. Research suggests that they might not have a choice:
A recent study by the University of Southern California (USC), published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has indicated that habitual liars may not be able to help themselves. That people who lie, cheat and manipulate may be doing so out of a brain abnormality rather than a drawback in character!
See, it's not their fault:
Take the instance of one of India’s senior-most ministers — alas no more — stating that he had forgotten to pay income-tax. We now know... that these may not have been deliberate lies but involuntary ones!
Meanwhile, as the lying politicians aren't doing anything to protect us poor and working class folks from the bird flu, it's comforting to know that some scientists think the shrinking ice caps may release long-frozen viruses that humans now have no immunity to and that governments also plan not to protect us from. Prime amongst the threats: influenza. But no need to fret, counsels Geoffrey Smith, scientist: "It is not top of my worries. We have enough to think about with the number of dangerous viruses around today." Don't you feel better now?
RELEVANT BLAST FROM THE PAST: Nowhere left to hide by Katharine Mieszkowski

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bird Flu: Will the poor be left to die?

Just who will get access to bird flu drugs and who won't? Currently, the rich countries are busy buying up all the Tamiflu while the poor countries, particularly those of Southeast Asia (where bird flu has been spreading), are coming up short. The Philippine's Health Secretary recently conceded that they had no stocks of the drug. When new supplies of Tamiflu arrived in New Zealand, which has enough money to buy up some of the dwindling supplies, they were all snatched up by panicking citizens within two days.

In a country like the US, with a disintigrating health care infrastructure and a sizeable population without health care, private stocks are likely to go to those with insurance or the money to get them. Meanwhile, the international community and national governments have reassured Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, that its patents (profits) will be respected, and no one will be allowed to make a cheap generic available. With the market assured that the elite have their priorities straight (profit before people), shares of MedImmune, a company planning to manufacture a dubious vaccine, hit a new year high.

Today, Indonesia reported that it was treating 57 people for suspected bird flu, a massive surge in the number of infections worldwide.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New Case Reveals Routine Abuse of Government Surveillance Powers

How can we blame the capitalists' government without also blaming their technology?

Cell Phones Used to Track Users Without Probable Cause

Science & TechnologySan Francisco, CA - infoZine - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is arguing that a New York federal court should stand by its decision to require probable cause to believe a crime has been or is about to be committed before letting the government secretly track people using their cell phones.

"This is the first case considering when the government can track the movements of your cell phone, and the answer couldn't be more important," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Allowing the government to turn anyone's cell phone into a tracking device without probable cause will enable a surveillance society that would make Big Brother jealous."

Last month, the court denied a Justice Department request to monitor a cell phone's location. The ruling revealed that the DOJ has routinely been securing court orders for real-time cell phone tracking without probable cause and without any law authorizing the surveillance.

Many cell phone users aren't aware that their phones can be used to track their location in real-time, even when they aren't using them. EFF filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Friday to oppose a DOJ motion asking the court to reconsider its pro-privacy decision. EFF argues that the Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant for such invasive surveillance, issued under the same strict standards as warrants that authorize phone and Internet wiretaps.

The government has tried to justify this gross expansion of its authority by combining two surveillance statutes, neither of which authorize cell phone tracking on their own. As EFF explains in its brief, there is no support anywhere for this argument -- not in the statutes' language, nor in legislative history, case law, or academic commentary. Indeed, it contradicts the government's own electronic evidence manual. "It's as if the government wants the court to believe that zero plus zero somehow equals one," said Bankston.

EFF's brief marks the first time the DOJ has had to face lawyers presenting an opposing argument on this issue. "Secrecy breeds abuse," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Before this court had the courage to stand up to the government, the hearings were hidden from the public and the judge only saw the government's point of view; this led to secret tracking orders -- without basis in law -- that threaten our fundamental liberties."

The DOJ is expected to appeal to the district court if Magistrate Judge Orenstein denies its motion to reconsider. The court has not said when it intends to rule.

Read the legal brief here.

Phoenix Anti-War: Lessons from Saturday's Protest

Saturday's anti-war rally in Phoenix looked awful familiar. The organizers chose a well-known location in a wealthy, white part of town. Peacekeepers worked diligently to maintain order, although without a clear set of political goals, it wasn't clear why. Most importantly, though, by having the event where and when they did, and by shifting the blame for the war onto Republicans, the organizers proved that they would rather have an event that has no chance of success than risk pointing out the hypocrisy and complicity of the Democratic Party.

Rather than taking action, bearing moral witness to the war seemed to be the main point of the day. Senator Jon Kyl's office, the symbolic target of the event, bolstered the anti-rightwing unity that so defines the movement these days. In fact, so overwhelming was the anti-Bush message that one man watching the demonstration was quoted in the East Valley Tribune saying, "I’m not exactly sure if this is supposed to be anti-war or anti-Bush."

The event itself was disproportionately white, and it said a lot about the isolation of the Phoenix anti-war movement that it took place the same day Immigrants Without Borders rallied at 24th Street and Buckeye to protest racial profiling on Greyhound buses. Was it a question of priorities? Or maybe it was only an unfortunate coincidence but, if so, it wasn't the first time. Several years ago locals organized a large anti-war march that competed with the valley's Juneteenth celebration. The two events snaking seperately through downtown spoke volumes. Little has changed.

The deja vu didn't end there. As mentioned, this rally saw the return in force of the peacekeepers, after having been rejected a couple years before. Apparently unaccountable, these folks urged people to stay out of the streets and offered positive reinforcement when folks remained within the organizers' narrow parameters for dissent. Since no goals for the event were clear, the reason for the peacekeepers was likewise unclear. Order for its own sake seemed to be the purpose. Or order for the sake of legitimacy.

There was to be no direct action. When a couple hundred or more people, apparently spontaneously, began circling the intersection in the crosswalks en masse, some peacekeepers became agitated. One peacekeeper hypocritically put his hands on a friend of mine to push him out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Though pretty low on the civil disobedience scale, even that minor level of disruption disturbed them visibly. Apparently, no one was to be inconvenienced by Saturday's event. The next day, the right-wing Arizona Republic remarked approvingly that the march had been "energetic but orderly." Legitimacy achieved.

But what was the goal of the event? The theme, "What noble cause?" offered no answers, and signs sporting the slogan proliferated like so many question marks as the afternoon went on. The organizers' guidelines implored marchers to avoid "violence, verbal or physical," though they left just what constituted verbal violence conveniently undefined. I saw several peacekeepers thank police for helping, despite the fact that police clearly violated guideline number 2 by coming to the demonstration quite heavily armed. Police violence at past anti-war marches had apparently been, perhaps conveniently, lost to history, and the guidelines, just like the cops, were meant explicitly to police the participants.

In keeping with the location, the event targeted the luxury car driving shoppers at the upscale mall which shared one corner of the intersection. It was an interesting choice - becoming even more so when organizers read aloud the names of the Arizona dead, few of whom owned luxury cars themselves, it is probably safe to assume (although they may have driven Hummers in Iraq - the one place a poor person can drive one). While Arizona's working class dead seemed worth manipulating for the event's vague political objectives, the organizers seemed to consider the living working class generally unworthy as an audience.

When the march - and I use the term loosely since we only covered two blocks - finally headed out, peacekeepers and organizers herded us on towards Jon Kyl's empty office. Whatever the tactical reasons for choosing Kyl, strategically it focused the attention squarely on the Republican Party. Whether out of habit or for lack of new ideas (and despite the clear failure of this strategy in 2004), the anti-war movement still carries with it much residual "Anybody But Bush" attitude from the election.

But, focusing our anger solely at Republican politicians is a bad idea. Pure numbers don't persuade them, as the massive, though generally polite, street demonstrations that preceded the war proved. And "Anybody But Bush" certainly has limited possibilities now that he has been re-elected.

But widening the spotlight to include Democrats would be problematic from the point of view of party sympathizers. Many of the Democrats, including the leadership, in the House and the Senate voted for the war. Pointing that out would undermine the Party by highlighting its obvious complicity in the war. The decision specifically to target Republicans in this context says a lot about the unstated sympathies of the anti-war organizing cadre in town. If this misguided strategy continues, we can expect to see more wannabe politicians and voter registration cards showing up at anti-war rallies as we draw nearer to the mid-term elections.

Most importantly, however, focusing on Republicans as the cause of the war does little or nothing to end it. Further, obscuring the Democrats' role in backing it not only contributes to a flawed analysis, it also opens up the opportunity for the continued co-optation of the anti-war movement by a party that supports the war. If the movement's closest ally supports the war, that's an obvious roadblock to stopping it.

So, what can we do about it?

First, it's time to stop laying all the blame on Bush and his cronies. We must insist on an honest accounting from the two war parties. Further, we need to reject the proposition that we need a political party at all to negotiate on our behalf for the end of the war. We can build an anti-war movement that directly pushes our demands, which are simple enough: stop the war now; withdraw all foreign forces.

Second, we must eliminate the peacekeepers, who are a needless conservative influence and a means for a small group of people to exert control. Now is the time for creative resistance, not for holding back. Getting rid of the peacekeepers will allow us to engage in the kind of direct action against meaningful targets that can actually stop the war machine.

And, third, we need to link up with the local struggles of working class and poor folks in this city, particularly the struggles of people of color. We must increasingly build bridges between anti-war organizing and ongoing local struggles rooted in solidarity and support, not leadership and co-optation. The links between the war abroad and the war at home must be made clear.

If we don't do these things, we can expect more of the same ineffectual, boring protests. The war will continue, or if it ends it will be on the terms of an elite with nothing but contempt for most Americans and Iraqis. A new wave of useless politicians will ride the anti-war movement to cushy government jobs, where they will become increasingly pragmatic and resistant to the kind of social change we so desperately need. It's time for some changes.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

MoveOn.org's conservative anti-war position

There is an article in the Boston Globe about the conservative position taken by MoveOn.org with regard to withdrawl from Iraq. MoveOn.org, after having somehow persuaded the anti-war movement to veer away from direct action in 2003 and towards elecoralism (advocating for pro-war Kerry), has continued to hedge their bets when it comes to the war. Despite the obvious failures of electoralism in 2004, MoveOn.org will certainly begin pushing its bankrupt voting strategy again as we near the 2006 mid-terms.

As antiwar groups grow, so do their differences

Photos from anti-war rallies around US

This banner was spotted at the SF anti-war Rally on Saturday:

Also in SF, anarchists tagged up this corporate news van:

Anarchists in DC set up roadblocks in the street:

Another sign spotted in SF:

What you can say without words:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Willing architects of the emerging techno-police state

In an article from the St. Petersburg Times, police brag about increasingly using cell phone records to prosecute crimes, even relatively minor ones. Cell phones regularly report their locations in order to maintain service - even without a phone call being made.
"It's a sure bet that almost everybody is going to be carrying a cell phone," said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. "It's just incredible, the information that it gives you."
At the same time, feeding off parents' fears, several companies have begun offering GPS services to track children. Some of them, like Wherifone (soon to be for sale at Wal-Mart), use an enhanced GPS system embedded in the phone, which they call "breadcrumbs," to track the movements of kids. The phone checks in with the system periodically so parents can log on and ascertain their child's whereabouts, including viewing a map of where he or she has been. Other systems use webcams and motion detection to spy on kids or property.

In order to justify large hi-tech surveillance networks, companies frighten parents with rare tragedies, such as unattended guns, abductions or drownings, most already preventable through low-tech means and commonsense. These personal systems have become quite affordable for middle class families thanks to capitalism and government subsidy (much of this technology has its origins in military research). In addition, companies over-hype the actual prevention applications of the technology, as Ken Fairbanks, director of product development for a kid-spying firm, did in the article "Remote Parenting" from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
"If the kids are supposed to stay away from the pool when Mom and Dad aren't home, a motion detector and camera in the back yard could send the parents an image at work, when the kids don't listen," Fairbanks said. "The parents could call home and tell the kids to stay away from the pool."
No phone call alone can stop a determined kid from hopping in the pool if he or she wants. So what we're left with is surveillance for the sake of surveillance. It's the threat of being caught that is expected to deter action. Surveillance is trotted out as the panacea for middle class white fear, a fear that can only be placated with the narrowing of private, hidden space and the expansion of the electronically viewable and recordable world.

This is also the case with a company called VeriChip, now headed by former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. secretary of health and human services Tommy Thompson. The company is currently pimping its Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) technology as the remedy for everything from lost Alzheimer's patients to escaped convicts. Marcia Thurnbauer writes about the VeriChip in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week. Many hospitals have already begun utilizing VeriChip technology, which can be implanted under the skin. Frontline Solutions reports that with the technology "each facility will be able to scan patients [my emphasis] to obtain their VeriChip ID Number and use the associated database information." Currently, VeriChip has volunteered its services to "chip" corpses in New Orleans.

Aside from the case of the dead in New Orleans, the interesting thing about these networks is that many are not imposed from outside by a government or a corporation. Certainly, governments and corporations facilitate their development and use, and to some extent manipulate demand through the media and advertizing. But individuals who adopt the technologies generally participate in them relatively freely, thus squeezing many of us in a vice between the increasingly prolific application of these technologies by individuals at one end and the surveillance of the state and capitalism at the other, both of which have expanded exponentially over the last few years. In her article on VeriChip, Thurnbauer asks,
At what point does a technology that offers certain conveniences become so indoctrinated that we wake up one day only to realize that virtually every aspect of our lives can be tracked, traced, regenerated and scanned 24/7?
With worldwide cellphone use topping two billion subscribers (many of them with cameraphones), humanity seems headed towards a society that is much more watched and regulated than ever - and from more and more directions at once.

Unlike the Big Brother model of surveillance, the developing spy society involves - even demands - mass popular participation. And the regulating eye it casts over society is dispersed and mobile, and may soon become, for all intents and purposes, everywhere and all-seeing. Derrick Jensen has likened this to the idea of the Panopticon - a prison design in which the guard can potentially view the prisoner at all times, but the prisoner can never know when he or she is being watched. So the assumption every prisoner must make is that they are potentially being spied on at every moment.

But because of the limitations on government and corporate surveillance, such a level of spying ultimately becomes possible in capitalist democracies with mass participation in the spying infrastructure through decentralized consumer technologies like webcams and cellphones. This ought to be of concern not just to folks interested in preserving liberties and privacy, but it should be of special concern to revolutionaries, who often require a certain amount of shadow in which to operate for planning, direct actions and organizing. Once the light of the surveillance society shines everywhere, at least potentially, the opportunities for social transformation change, and may even disappear entirely.

Beyond that, if we seriously consider it, we may find the technologies themselves incompatible with the very premise of a free society. The generally prevailing view of technologies is that they are neutral and that negative applications result from bad intentions. We should begin considering the notion that the negative uses of such technologies flow logically from their very existence, and that any liberatory applications we can find for them stand as exceptions. A free society may have to be one without cell phones.

Monday, September 19, 2005

White radio station execs stoking hip-hop conflict for their own financial gain

In their quest for controversy-driven ratings (and the ad dollars they bring in), New York radio stations have been manipulating hip-hop artists, stoking beefs and arranging conflicts. The guardian reports today:
DaveyD, a Los Angeles-based journalist who covers hip-hop and politics, said the station had to take some responsibility. "Hot 97 cranks it up," he said. "They try to get away with as much as they can. It's part of their marketing. The beef is made public and when things go wrong they say: 'We really couldn't control that.' But they are the ones who gain from it."
DaveyD has also written about the formation of "hip-hop police" squads in many cities, which spy on local artists. In an interview from 2004 on DemocracyNow, DaveyD discusses these specialized police units and the historical context for police intervention in the lives of Black people:
The thing is, the truth of the matter is that the surveillance of black men in particular has been taking place for generations, and the surveillance of hip hop artists is just a new name for the war on drugs; it is a new name for COINTELPRO. Meaning there's always these excuses to somehow have law enforcement come into the community and keep tabs.
He further links it to the broader context of struggle in this country:
I think that what is happening is that... [the] pretext of surveiling artists is being used to set up a situation where you can really start coming into communities where there's a lot of activism going on. Why do we talk about in these headlines that rap artists who have troubled pasts are being surveiled, and what they're not telling you is that Van Jones who was right here on the show earlier was surveiled. Do you see what I am saying? What they're not telling you is that Michael Franti, who is going around the country doing anti-war songs and peace work and every album that he has put out is centered around a theme for peace and justice issues has been surveiled
In an interview in Vibe magazine M1, from Dead Prez, also linked it to past government spy operations like COINTELPRO. He said,
I think they been taking pictures of rappers and anyone black that's been making moves in any kind of way. I think it's apart of that dragnet they use to try and catch you up. And they're using that web to try and build a case. You know, and they build up these trumped up charges. And the more and more they do it, the more it's gonna start looking like the same kind of sh*t they've been doing to catch up organizations like the Black Panthers and so forth. I think we can benefit from those past experiences.
But the focus on hip-hop violence, both by the police and the media serves two purposes, Rolling Stone writer and contributing editorTouré says:
There is a long-standing fear of the black man in America… From Nat Turner to Willie Horton black men have been used to create fear in American hearts. Today's versions of this are rappers.
The original hip-hop cop, and founder of the NYPD's hip-hop intelligence unit, Derrick Parker spoke about the history of his unit in the Village Voice in 2004:
"I did observations. I was at concert halls. Man, you name a rap event, I was there. The rappers got to know me after a while," says Parker. "We did databases. I had pictures, magazines . . . files on everybody. I knew everything about everybody." People got so used to seeing him, he says, that some dubbed him the "Hiphop Cop."
Later in the same article, he reveals the expansive nature of the surveillance operation he was running,
Everything got so big that all the chiefs knew who I was. Now everybody started dropping in like parachutes . . . every single precinct in the city was reporting that they had some kind of contact or non-contact with a guy who was a wannabe rapper, a musician, an artist, or a group.
Of course, there are no similar programs to spy on white rock bands. The surveillance of hip-hop artists parallels the general government policy towards people of color. Longtime community activist Rosa Clemente, reminds us of the link:
"It is illegal for them to profile and that's what they're doing. It's a method of profiling— whether it's racial, economic, or a record label," she says. "This goes back to counter-insurgency within our communities."

New bird flu reports predict economic collapse

Updated 9/19/05 at 3:25 pm

A new article in the Independent reports on two studies, one done by Nottingham University and the other by the Bank of Montreal in Canada, which each predict a "'catastrophic' economic crash in Britain and around the world, unprecedented in modern times" as a result of even a moderate bird flu outbreak. The Independent says:
The study used a giant computer model of the British economy. It found that even a relatively mild pandemic, with 50,000 deaths, would cut Britain's GDP by a staggering 8 per cent or £95bn, cost 941,000 jobs, and "affect every aspect of life in Britain".
Meanwhile, bird flu continues to spread. The Guardian reports new animal cases at the Jakarta Zoo, where two thirds of animals sampled tested positive for the infection. Indonesian doctors report four new likely human cases as well, including two more children. Some analysis of the bird infections can be found here. As a result, officials have shut down the zoo and declared an "extroadinary incident," a bureaucratic condition that signals increased government attention to the matter. Only ten miles away from the zoo, one student has died and dozens have been infected with a "mystery illness" that apparently has plagued a whole neighborhood. A new AFP article offers some basic information, but not much new.

Recombinomics has some analysis suggesting that the World Health Organization is ignoring signs of human to human spreading of avian flu. In his commentary on the site, Dr. Henry L Niman contends that WHO is undercounting the human infections in families, which obscures cases of human to human transmission. He says,
...words of assurance are issued to the press and official counts bury the human-to-human transmissions and maintain a pandemic stage 3 when clearly the level is at 4 or 5 and will soon be phase 6.
Phase 6 is the highest and final phase of a pandemic.

On the treatment side, the WHO says it will not push the Swiss drug firm Roche Holding AG to allow a generic and cheaper version of its drug oseltamivir, otherwise known as Tamiflu. The drug is the only proven treatment for bird flu and Roche obviously hopes to make a lot of money on it. This poses obvious problems for those countries and people who cannot afford the drug, especially since the outbreak, when it comes, will almost certainly occur in a poor country. It will come as no surprise then that rich countries have begun stockpiling Tamiflu and other drugs (including an unproven, experimental vaccine) while most poor countries in Asia, where two of the last three flu pandamics have originated, have none or very limited amounts.

Pandemic planning is being hindered by poor farmers, who receive little or no compensation for any birds culled by authorities.
"Fear that their flocks might be culled without compensation is a pretty strong disincentive to report an outbreak," said [Dr Shigeru] Omi at the opening of the UN agency's western Pacific conference in Noumea.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Katrina continues to reveal the real racist America

The picture to the right, from the Times-Picayune, is captioned:
"John Lacy spreads out all the cash to his name, $40. Lacy, who spent 28 in Angola for armed robbery, was picked up by the military after Hurricane Katrina. He escaped and walked back New Orleans."

The Houston Chronicle reports that historically Black colleges and universities have been among the worst hit by Katrina, and their more limited resources will make coming back from the disaster much more difficult than it will be for their wealthier and whiter counterparts. As with much of New Orleans, the areas where the Black colleges were located left them more vulnerable to flooding and general damage.

The paper reports:
The endowments at Dillard and Xavier, the country's only historically black and Catholic institution, are only a small fraction of the endowment that comparatively unscathed Tulane will be able to tap.

Payroll alone could all but wipe out Dillard's $46 million endowment within two years. Tuition makes up half of the annual budget at the private college of about 2,100 students.
That there is even a question of whether the schools will survive shows yet again how white supremacy leaves even middle class Black institutions vulnerable and their place in the larger white-dominated economy remains tenuous, even after many years.

Meanwhile, angry Ninth Ward residents, their neighborhoods the worst hit by the flooding, confronted Governor Blanco about the lack of progress:

Joeliene L. West told Blanco that her employer had not delivered paychecks to workers for three weeks. West said she was running out of money and was desperate for information.

"They have not gotten our checks straightened out. They owe us hours of work. It's the funds that are due to us. It's our money," West said.

At the same time, the city government of Gretna, a primarily white New Orleans suburb, has reiterated its support for the local police chief, who blocked fleeing New Orleans residents from evacuating across the bridge that connects the two towns.
Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky said officers ordered them back down the bridge, away from the West Bank.

"The West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their city," Bradshaw and Slonsky recalled Gretna officers saying. "These were code words for: If you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you were not getting out of New Orleans."

Police used dogs and shotguns to control the crowd, said [New Orleans Mayor] Nagin. The evacuees were left helpless, the mayor said.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Some things change and some don't (not for the better)

As much as Katrina revealed about the ongoing disaster that is life in the United States for so many of us, the news today reminds us that things are only getting worse. The planet continues to lurch from one major environmental disaster to another, on its way to total collapse. The Scotsman reports that global warming appears to have vastly increased the strength of hurricanes produced by the ever hotter oceans. Meanwhile, white American workers remain as reactionary as ever, continuing to aim their attacks at non-white segments of the working class rather than at the white elite that runs the show in the US.


There are three forces that can end this war and bring the troops home. The first is the Iraqi people themselves, who can defeat the American army through a war of attrition and general resistance. The second is a movement of the American people that builds its own autonomous power and forces American elites to abandon their imperial project in Iraq. And a third movement could involve American soldier resistance and refusal. In all likelihood, it will be a combination of all three that will end the war.

Since we are against the war and located in the US, we should concentrate on what we can do and how we should build and orient our part of this movement.


The political parties represent the interests of the ruling class. Further, their top-down national structures make it impossible to persuade either party to our cause, regardless of what the grassroots in each party wants. Attempting to engage elites through participation in institutions they control is futile. And any solutions that would come from such a process would not represent the interests of common Americans or the Iraqi people. All political parties once in power make war, if not abroad, then at home.

We need to build a grassroots, direct action anti-war movement that is capable of forcing the elites to stop the war. Towards that end we need to take a firm position against allowing politicians, parties and their affiliated organizations into our movement. Organizations like MoveOn.org helped destroy the anti-war movement in the early days of the war by turning it into an electoral movement for pro-war John Kerry. The leadership of both parties is pro-war and of no use to us. Building our own autonomous power in which leadership comes from the grassroots - independent of political parties - will end this war and help make sure there are no more like it in the future.


There is little doubt that wars both feed on and encourage racism at home. The American elite depends on white people’s allegiance to their skin privilege to maintain their systems of profit and war. Attacks on Muslims, Middle Eastern Americans and immigrants are not a side effect of the war – they reflect the centrality of racism to the war. We cannot end this war without putting the struggle against white supremacy right up front. Our movement needs to stand firmly with people of color and immigrants and defend their rights and participation within and outside of the movement. White, patriotic vigilante groups like the Minutemen and the American Legion must be vigorously opposed.


The war against Iraq reflects elite American and international interests. And not everyone fighting or organizing in Iraq has the interests of the Iraqi people at heart. However, choosing our movement’s allies in Iraq based on whether they engage in armed resistance is not a useful criterion. The Iraqi people have a right to resist foreign occupation with arms. However, we should not support fascist elements within the resistance, such as Zarqawi and Baathists, merely because they also oppose American intervention.

Fortunately, plenty of groups deserve our direct support, including material aid. The Union of Unemployed Iraqis, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq represent some possibilities. We need to help support the Iraqi people’s fight against fascist elements in Iraq, be they American, Iraqi or foreign Islamic.

While Iraq under Saddam was no paradise for women, their rights have come under major attack since the US invasion. International solidarity is an important tool for supporting the struggles of women in Iraq to preserve and expand their rights. Further, building genuine domestic support in America for anti-fascist Iraqis undermines the war effort abroad.


Many in the disproportionately white and middle class anti-war movement have cheered what they consider the mainstreaming of the anti-war movement with the recent Cindy Sheehan encampment. The influx into the movement of white, middle class people in this context is viewed as a major triumph for the re-emerging anti-war movement. Growing numbers are good.

But beyond the numbers, the tendency to put white, middle class people in charge of the movement or to treat them as the legitimate or legitimizing section of the movement represents a failure of analysis and a move towards recuperation by the war-making system. Those most affected by the war are not middle class whites. Their leadership is a step backward for the anti-war movement, as is the re-framing of the anti-war movement’s message toward this segment of the population. It is a false notion to believe that middle class elements are capable of ending this war in a way that prevents future wars.

The fact is the war is not an isolated phenomenon. It takes place within a specific domestic political context and it is aimed primarily at the working classes and poor of the world – particularly people of color. There is a war at home and that makes the war abroad possible. The two are linked. Both American troops in Iraq and cops in our neighborhoods are armies of occupation representing the domination of the rich and powerful. Abu Gharib cannot be separated from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's internationally condemned jails. The Phoenix PD cannot be separated from the 1st Infantry Division. Blackwater Security fights in Iraq and New Orleans. If our movement makes these links clear we can avoid the co-optation of the movement by mainstream elements and build a militant and radical grassroots power. In the end, that benefits everyone.


Our movement needs to stand firmly against both arguments being made by dissenting factions within the parties. Those who say the war in Iraq was a mistake or that it is merely being fought incorrectly are making arguments that in the end boost the American imperialist project by holding out the possibility of correcting American policy. It may prove that elite goals in Iraq were always unachievable, but we should be against those goals regardless. Engaging in an argument about how this war could have been won gives legitimacy to the goals of the elite class in Iraq. If we break free from the national security debate we can make it clear that it's American policies that make us unsafe. The military does not protect us - it is a tool for achieving elite policies. A debate about restructuring or redeploying the military does not advance the cause of human freedom. We must stand for self-determination for the world’s people and against imperialism.


It is correct to argue for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. However, we must not serve to merely correct elite policy. Any withdrawal of troops must not merely provide the opportunity for redeploying them into other wars or occupations. We must make sure that our call for withdrawal is tied inextricably to massive reductions or elimination of the state's war-making capability. We should stand against those on the left and the right who would expand the size of the army. Out of Iraq and out of the army should be our slogan. Support for soldier resistance, desertion, sabotage and conscientious objection is vital.


In the end our analysis must recognize that governments make wars for the profit of an elite class. The profits from those wars are then defended domestically by the same government. Any movement that doesn’t seek to destroy capitalism and the state promises us nothing but more wars. Our vision must include a radical re-organization of society, from the bottom up. The anarchist vision of a society based on participation, mutual aid, cooperation and free association offers the best jumping off point to a world free from wars, poverty, alienation and drudgery.

Officer Down: The media and cop-killings

From Summer Issue 2005

The recent shooting death of Officer David Uribe, shot in the head and neck while making a traffic stop, offers several opportunities for radical analysis. Typical of its easy-going treatment of local police departments, the media fell lock step behind the idea of the police officer as defender of public order and all things good. In fact, where any dissented from the gushing media monotone, they demanded an even more gratuitous lavishing of praise on Uribe and police in general.

Such was the case with John McDonald’s melodramatic column in the Arizona Republic. In his sensationally titled article, “The day a cop died, this city lost its soul,” McDonald expressed his exasperation at the TV when “two anchors and a weatherman laughed and giggled about the delightful mild temperatures just minutes after detailing the brutal execution of a local veteran cop.” One wonders if McDonald even watches local television news, which in fact was dominated by endless coverage of the murder, manhunt and reaction for several days as local talking heads beatified Uribe with all due haste.


The media uniformly treated the Uribe killing as a loss for whole community. Even the killing of an unarmed man by Phoenix PD the very next day could not damper the media’s enthusiasm for the story. Remarking on the second shooting, Patty Kirkpatrick, a Channel 3 anchor, expressed relief that the conflict had ended in the death of the suspect, rather than a cop. In her mind it was preferable that an unarmed man die than a cop get hurt trying to carry out murder.

On May 12th, Benson’s cartoon in the Republic featured a simple sketch of a police badge bearing Uribe’s number. Written across a black band of mourning were the words, “thank you.” But for what? "When we lose someone like that, we lose part of ourselves," answers the Phoenix Fire Department's chaplain, Rev. Father Carl G. Carlozzi in the Arizona Republic. In a letter to the editor, Patricia Fay of Phoenix explained it this way, “They are my protectors. Someone killed one of my protectors.”


But there is a real tension between the public image of policing, defended so single-mindedly by the media, and the reality. Introducing channel 12’s coverage of the Uribe funeral the following Tuesday, Lin Sue Cooney described the event as “a whole community” saying thank you. Effusive in their coverage of a car-wash fundraiser for the Uribe’s family, local media outlets actively campaigned for valley residents to participate. Can the same police force that regularly kills unarmed people of color be the protectors of the community? Can the same police force that uses Tasers to kill, just as the Phoenix Police did on May 4th, 2005, killing a 24 year-old man, be protectors? Are the same police forces that disproportionately target, arrest and incarcerate the poor, and especially people of color, really defenders of the “community?”

But, everyone knows that police don’t protect everyone equally and that they specifically target some segments of the community over others. For years the Scottsdale PD enforced what they called a “no-n****r zone,” pulling over and harassing black people driving through the city. Incarceration rates for poor people versus rich people are so obvious that they hardly require mentioning. But many whites still continue to deny the just as obvious disparities in white and non-white incarceration rates. To believe that these disparities exist apart or in exception to the overall system of policing makes no sense. They exist because this is the way the system was meant to function.


The police system is designed primarily to defend the rich and toward that end to police poor people and poor people of color in particular. Made up of reporters primarily drawn from middle and upper classes, and owned by very rich people, the media serves that goal as propagandist for the police and defender of its own class interest, and they reflect the racism that all white people learn in their upbringing.

Let’s look at the numbers. According the Princeton Review, the average television reporter, after five years on the job, earned $65,000 dollars a year. In the top 25 television markets the median salary as reported by the Missouri School of Journalism stood at $78,000 in 2000. According to the US Census, that rate stood at nearly twice the same figure for male workers in general, a rate which, it should be pointed out, itself remains higher than the median for non-whites and women. That disparity appears even sharper when we consider the Bureau of Labor Statistics count, which put the average annual wage in the U.S. as $36,764 for 2002. Even print reporters, generally paid less than their television comrades, fair better than average Americans. Clearly there is a class divide between many of us consuming the news and the people reporting, not to mention the editors and owners, and the media coverage shows it.

For example, the bulk of the media ignored a story that ran in the Arizona Republic the 11th, the very day Uribe was killed. Jahna Berry reported that a federal jury had awarded Gerardo Ramirez-Diaz $1 million dollars after a Phoenix police officer shot him in the gut without just cause. And just four days before the shooting of Uribe, in a rare display of public criticism, the Arizona Republic came out against the reinstatement of Chandler police officer Dan Lovelace. Lovelace was fired for using excessive force after he shot and killed unarmed Dawn Rae Nelson in her car, from behind, with her 14 month-old son sitting in the seat behind her. That murder occurred on October 11th, 2001, making the Republic’s opposition to Lovelace’s reinstatement a little late in coming, to say the least, though it does show just how extreme a case it takes for the local media to take a critical position towards local police.


Much of the coverage of Uribe’s killing focused on the supposed danger cops face in the carrying out of their duties. Multiple newscasters and residents interviewed regarded the police as “putting themselves on the line” for other people, risking their lives regularly or standing as soldiers on the front lines of American society. But reflecting a rate that has remained pretty consistent, police officers don’t even rank in the top ten most dangerous jobs as most recently listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, just a little over a week before Uribe’s killing, a farm worker was killed in Arizona when a bale of hay fell on him. Another worker, a roofer, was killed when he fell and drowned in a pool. The first didn’t even merit mentioning his name in the brief Arizona Republic article that ran. Both farm worker and roofer do rank within the top ten most dangerous occupations. Interestingly, Latinos represent a large proportion of workers in these fields. Another recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a rate of five fatalities per 100,000 Hispanic workers in 2002 that was 25 percent higher than for all workers. This wouldn’t happen if white workers would stand up with Latino workers against these kinds of abuses. But apparently local media finds the deaths of workers, especially workers of color, as too commonplace to merit coverage, even though that contradicts their attitude towards the job of police officer, who they misreport as in constant jeopardy.

So, in order to understand why the media, the rich and so many white people have fallen all over themselves to praise Uribe and to condemn his murder – while rarely admitting police excesses - we have to delve a little into the history of American police forces. The alleged danger of the job doesn’t stand up as a sufficient explanation. Policing in America has two main origins, both of which serve to accomplish the same mission: to protect the wealth of the rich and powerful.


The first origin lies in the violent class struggles of the 19th century. During those times, workers were forced into the emerging factory system that the capitalist class was creating in the cities of the Northeast. In these factories workers had little power and were subjected to long hours and brutal conditions. When armed class struggle broke out, the capitalists, outnumbered and not generally wishing to risk their own necks in the fighting, created police forces to wage war on the working class in defense of their factories and wealth. The first real police force in the US was founded in 1845 in New York City, center of the country’s emerging industrial economy. As industrialism and modern capitalism spread, other cities followed New York’s example.

Private property lies at the heart of capitalist exploitation. The authority of the boss derives precisely because s/he owns the means of production – the workplace, the computers, the machines and thus the profits. Because workers’ interests depend on a redistribution of wealth and equality in the workplace, this brings us in inevitable conflict with the boss and his lackeys, the police. It’s the same thing with the landlord. The landlord’s ability to evict or demand rent couldn’t exist without the system of private property and the police to back it up with violence.

The second main origin of American policing centers on the slave patrol system of the South. Charged with protecting white plantation owners, the slave patrols, or “patty rollers” as they were often called, brutally oppressed blacks, both slave and free. It is from the slave patrollers that American policing gets many of its traditions and powers. Patty rollers worked specific “beats” and could demand identification from any black person they encountered. The slave patrols incarcerated and returned, frequently with violence, any black person who could not prove their free status or provide written permission for their travel. Even in the North the police were charged with capturing and returning escaped slaves.

The influence of this racist tradition reverberates today in a variety of ways. An Arizona Daily Star review of Department of Public Safety records revealed that during traffic stops police searched Latinos more than twice as frequently as whites. And police searched blacks almost three times as frequently as whites – despite the fact that searches of whites turned up contraband much more regularly. Beyond racial profiling, which brings them into police contact more frequently in the first place, non-whites also face racist judges, unequal access to competent defense and sentencing guidelines that send them to prison at rates many times that of whites and for longer duration.

In fact, the history of Arizona police forces combines both origins. Back in the day, as now, Arizona was a mining state and Latinos composed a large percentage of the miners. In response to militant organizing by mine workers, the state created the Arizona Rangers. Ostensibly formed to combat cattle rustling, in actuality the government used the force primarily against miners and people of color. This tradition continues to contemporary times, and many of us remember the UMW strike of 1983 when then-Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, called out police and national guardsmen against workers in defense of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Police guarded scabs brought in by the company, effectively breaking the strike.

It is critical for working class white people to understand the true origins and purposes of American policing and to be critical of both the aims and causes of media defense of police and police departments. In the end, supporting police power means supporting the rich people that exploit the entire working class, white or not. The American system has given white workers privileges that non-white workers don’t get, and many of them directly involve reduced exposure to police violence and policing in general. American history has shown, though, that when even white workers organize against the bosses and politicians, the police are brought in against us as well. It’s time for white workers to stand in support of communities of color when they organize against the police of all kinds, including La Migra. We need to recognize that the police are a racist institution that cannot be justified if what we want is a world of equality and justice, and media defense of policing amounts to defense of racism and the rich.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Minuteman Project: Modern Day Slave Patrols

The political context of white vigilantism and why white people need to fight it.

From the Summer Issue 2005

On April 10, 2005, white private citizen Patrick Haab held at gunpoint seven Mexican migrants at a rest stop outside of Phoenix. Based only on racist assumptions, he called the police alleging that the men were “illegal immigrants” and detained them against their will. When police arrived, Haab was arrested for aggravated assault but several days later Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas dropped all charges against him.

Though Thomas claimed that letting Haab off the hook “[was] not a green light to intimidate, threaten, or detain anyone merely suspected of being in this country illegally,” the signal it sent was clear: county government condones white people treating brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people like criminals and acting as vigilantes to apprehend them.

Remarking on Haab’s response to his arrest, a longtime friend said, "He was dumbfounded. He doesn’t understand why he’s been arrested. He was just doing what he was trained to do." What training? Haab was no cop. He was an Army reservist. What made Haab think he had the right to police seven migrants? The answer is white supremacy.

At the same time, a little further south, the Minuteman Project had been camping out on the border, where for a month they detained and turned in any migrants they saw. Though it claims a race-neutral homeland security mission, in reality the Minuteman Project has set itself up as a white vigilante police force to harass people of color at the border.

Despite assertions from the Minutemen, the truth is violent white supremacist groups across the country lined up behind the project. The National Alliance enthusiastically endorsed it and the Aryan Nation called the project "a white pride event" that "all Aryan soldiers” should support. National Alliance members actively participated. If the Minuteman Project isn’t violent now, history shows that it very likely will be in the future, especially now that the project stands poised to expand across the Border States.

Throughout American history, working class white people have frequently been encouraged to form vigilante groups in order to police people of color. Just like Haab and the Minuteman Project do to suspected “illegals”, who they identify by their skin color and their language, under slavery any white person could challenge any black person to prove his or her status as a free person. This required blacks, free or not, to carry documents that proved their right to travel or status as freemen. Failure to provide adequate documentation meant imprisonment and a return to the desperate conditions of slavery that so many slaves justifiably sought to flee.

White people, encouraged by the aristocratic plantation owners who ran Southern society, organized slave patrols to capture and return escaped slaves. Further, the KKK menaced blacks with extreme violence after the Civil War, and White Citizens Councils attacked civil rights activists in the 50’s and 60’s. In the Southwest, white vigilante groups like the Texas White Caps terrorized the Mexican and black population on behalf of rich white landowners. During the Great Depression, working class whites and the organizations they dominated, including the American Federation of Labor, fed a hysteria that led to a massive government organized deportation and expropriation of tens of thousands of Latino workers – a great many of them United States citizens.

In all white racist movements, the poor and working classes compose a large portion of the participants. This is because in America, capitalism depends on white supremacy, a system in which even the poorest white people receive special privileges that are disproportionately denied to significant numbers of people of color. These privileges - like the right of free movement or not to be presumed guilty based solely on one’s skin color or language - ought to be human rights, guaranteed to everyone regardless of their race or national origin.

Under white supremacy, white people act loyal to their special status over their common class interest with people of color. This allows the continued exploitation of the working class by the rich who can count on working class white people to fight against working class people of color, rather than to unite with them. It also helps keep people of color as second class citizens, which provides a super-cheap pool of labor for capitalists to exploit as well as a ready source of tension to tap into in times of economic hardship or restructuring. It’s important to remember that it isn’t workers, legal or not, who determine wages. Immigrant labor does not drive down wages; capitalists drive down wages. The solution to low wages is to support migrant laborers, not to attack them.

The current political context in Arizona provides a case in point. While it is white working class people who so frequently act as the shock troops for white supremacy, it is the white ruling class that writes the laws, controls the economy and encourages the larger climate of white supremacy.

And so car dealer and local multi-millionaire Rusty Childress served as the treasurer and a main organizer for the racist Protect Arizona Now initiative, which denies basic human rights to undocumented immigrants by requiring proof of citizenship for many basic services. But while the rich whites legislate, the vigilante violence is left to white working class racists like Steve Boggs, recently convicted of the brutal murders of two Latino and one Navajo Jack In The Box workers. Explaining his actions, Boggs wrote, "My motive was to rid the world of a few needless illegals.” Angry at losing his job and low paycheck, Boggs blamed working-class non-whites rather than the rich capitalists who determined his dismal pay rate.

And now the rich white supremacist elite is expanding its gains by pushing an English-Only law, intended to further marginalize and attack immigrants in Arizona. But in the field, it is working class whites that compose much of the front line forces at the border, fighting against their own class rather than supporting migrants in their struggle against capitalism and the state.

White people need to understand the way that white supremacy operates in America and fight against it. This means opposing racist organizations like the Minuteman Project and supporting the rights of migrants. It means fighting against English-Only laws and police repression against migrants, legal or otherwise. We need to support human rights for everyone, regardless of where they come from.

We need to support the right of all people to travel freely and we should not support calls for securing the border with an increased police or military presence as an alternative to border vigilantism. Just because we are against vigilantes enforcing racist immigration laws doesn’t mean we should support utilizing police or border agents to enforce them instead. Conservatives who support the vigilantes and liberals who merely want government to do the job instead ought to be equally opposed. This includes rejecting both Governor Napolitano’s plan to have local police enforce Federal immigration laws and right wing plans to further militarize the border.

When we fight for free movement and equal rights for all people, we strike a blow right at the heart of the system that serves the interests of a few rich people at the expense of the vast majority. When we fight for the rights of people of color, we improve the situation for all of us and take the first steps towards smashing capitalism forever.

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