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Monday, October 31, 2005

Meet the world's fastest supercomputer, BlueGene/L

The Record, a California-based newspaper, reports on BlueGene/L, the world's fastest supercomputer. They write: "It is so fast, its speed is equal to every man, woman and child in the world doing 60,000 calculations per second." That figure also roughly equals the number of people the supercomputer could kill, because, like most supercomputers, BlueGene/L will be doing nuclear weapons research. The goal? To "determine how to make weapons safe and reliable." Apparently no one thought of just dismantling them. BlueGene/L has a slightly slower twin, affectionately named Purple, which "gives researchers accurate 3-D simulations of a nuclear weapon's performance." Part of a $200 million contract with IBM, the project illuminates yet again the direct link between advancing computer technology and weapons research. Or, as an IBM press release puts it,
These extraordinary efforts were made possible by a [government] partnership with American industry that has reestablished American computing preeminence.
Well, thank god for that.

Meanwhile, it will surely be comforting to know that two-thirds of all cell phones sold this year will be camera phones. As the technology becomes ubiquitous over the next few years, we can expect almost every possibility for privacy to disappear. Of course, critics will maintain that public space has always been just that, public, and that we have never had an expectation of privacy in those locations. However, the key difference with cell phone cameras is that they are instantly networkable. As Alexis Gerard, president of Future Image, says,
"The explosive growth in personal network-connected image capture devices is a fundamental shift, comparable for instance to the rapid spread of PCs in the 90’s -- but on a much larger scale."
It's just a press of a button from capturing an image to sharing it with other interested parties, from police to corporations to vigilantes. Always growing, today "cellular networks cover 80 percent of the world's population, which amounts to a target market of 5.5 billion people."

However, as USA today reports in a story titled, "Poll: Many like tech gizmos but are frustrated," Americans are almost equally in love with and frustrated by their techno-gadgets. While 72 percent of Americans are "comfortable" or get "excited" about new technologies, 64 percent say "they have trouble trying to figure out how to work the darn things some, most or all of the time." It hardly gives one confidence that Americans are embracing so eagerly technologies that they cannot understand. Asked to rank various gadgets by whether they are necesseties or not, Americans reported that
(54%) consider... a cellphone; 47% say a desktop PC, 35%, cable TV or satellite, 28%, high-speed Internet, 22%, a DVD player, 17%, a laptop computer and 14%, a digital camera.
This ranking of needs may come as a surprise to some of the 2000 children, sans computers, who die every year from malaria every day in the world.

In a final bit of technology news, Science.com reports on the US military's quest to control the weather - and to turn it into another weapon in their arsenal. Weather control
offers the ability to degrade the effectiveness of enemy forces. That could come from flooding an opponent’s encampment or airfield to generating downright downpours that disrupt enemy troop comfort levels. On the flipside, sparking a drought that cuts off fresh water can stir up morale problems for warfighting foes.

Even fooling around with fog and clouds can deny or create concealment – whichever weather manipulation does the needed job.
Is it possible to know too much? As usual, the scientists say no. In an article forebodingly entitled, "Scientific Ignorance May Have Lasting Repercussions," Roger Martin says, "We've been content about our scientific ignorance for too long. Eventually, what we don't know is going to cost us." Maybe, but what about what we do know? Martin uses a skillful manipulation to dodge an important issue. He uses "us" and "our" to give the impression that scientific ignorance, or it's opposite, scientific knowledge, is somehow held or shared democratically. In fact, scientific and technological knowledge are not shared democratically. Nor are they democratically accountable. When was the last time you voted for a scientist? Don't worry, that's just how they like it. The nukes are safe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Living in remote control

The Mercury News is reporting on a new technology developed in Japan for controlling humans by remote control. Technically called a galvanic vestibular stimulation, and worn on the head, the device works by stimulating the nerves of the inner ear with an electrical current. The stimulation causes the feeling of falling to one side or another, thus causing the wearer to lurch in that direction in order to maintain balance. One can even direct oneself with the remote control. And, of course, there's a military application:
Timothy Hullar, assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., believes finding the right way to deliver an electromagnetic field to the ear at a distance could turn the technology into a weapon for situations where
"killing isn't the best solution.''

"This would be the most logical situation for a nonlethal weapon that presumably would make your opponent dizzy,'' he said via e-mail. "If you find just the right frequency, energy, duration of application, you would hope to find something that doesn't permanently injure someone but would allow you to make someone temporarily off-balance.''

Indeed, a small defense contractor in Texas, Invocon Inc., is exploring whether precisely tuned electromagnetic pulses could be safely fired into people's ears to temporarily subdue them.
Invocon describes what they do this way:
At its core, Invocon is a Research and Development company, developing new technologies, systems, and ideas for new applications, with different parameters, and with the newest processes or hardware.
That's pretty clear, isn't it?

In an article titled "Is Big Brother under your hood?", the Grand Rapids Press reports that auto manufacturers have been placing event data recorders in vehicles without notifying purchasers.
[They] are in most 2004 models and 15 percent of cars, according to the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The devices record information seconds before and during impact, including speed, air-bag deployments, throttle position and brake, seat belt and warning lamp status.
The technology has been around since 1998, but it is only recently that police have begun using the data they record in prosecutions.
In September, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth charged a Jenison woman after an examination of her car's "black box" showed she was speeding when her car hit and seriously injured a Kent County Road Commission worker patching a highway.
College professor Thomas Kowalick says that all the concern is overblown. "It is objective scientific data. It cannot lie, it speaks for the victims and that's why it's a breakthrough."

In the end it boils down to consumer acceptance, he said. Absent any means for democratic accountability in technology development, that basically means that we have little choice but to accept it.

In a related story, insurance companies in Britain have begun offering pay-as-you-go auto insurance. It could mean lower bills for those who drive during the day or short distances, for example. The catch? You have to let them place a black box recorder in your car to keep track of where, when and how you drive. And, it should go without saying that the police can subpoena the information. Or the company could just sell it to third parties. The recorders use mobile phone technology to transmit all pertinent information to the insurance company. In a creepy "slavery equals freedom" argument, an insurance company spokesman said,
For too long, motor insurers have paid too little attention to exactly who is behind the wheel, the cars they drive or the journeys they make. With tailored policies, consumers really are in the driving seat.
But how will people react to the new technology? That seems to depend on how they define freedom. One man who switched to the new policy put it this way: "Having my journeys logged doesn't bother me. What matters is the extra financial freedom."

In a couple related stories, Liberal San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has announced plans to place six new surveillance cameras in poor sections of town. Ostensibly to watch "high crime intersections," the devices will increase the city's ability to regulate the poor residents that live there. Newsom claims that the cameras, which have been tried out in a couple other locations, have the support of local residents. Although that doesn't entirely explain why the cameras are each housed in a bulletproof casing.

Meanwhile, the city of Cuyahoga Falls planned to vote Monday to place 31 surveillance cameras downtown at a cost of $166,000. The cameras will watch for vandals, and the film will be held for three weeks in order to be assist any prosecutions or investigations that might be necessary.

As our uncontrolled space continues to shrink, Mobile Health Data reports that "Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester, Mich., is using radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) to ensure babies and mothers match and that babies can't be removed from the facility until discharged." Under the Orwellian-named "Hugs and Kisses" program, both baby and mother wear RFID tags that track them throughout the hospital, reporting their locations every seven seconds to a central system. When the appropriate mother and child are brought together, the device plays a soothing, soulless electronic lullaby to signal a match.

At the same time, the US has reported it plans to install RFID chips in all passports after October 2006. The chips will have 64 kilobytes of data, more than is currently needed. The extra space anticipates government plans to include additional data, such as iris scans, fingerprints or other biometrics on the chip. The State Department took comments on the plan, and out of 2335 comments received, 98.5 percent were negative. Undeterred, the plan moves forward.

But none of this is bad news for technology workers. TechWeb News reports that internet technology workers salaries can be expected to rise by three percent this year on average. Ironically, leading the pack are IT auditors, who can expect their salaries to leap "11.2 percent in the range of $67,000 to $94,250." High technology might be bad for most of us, but it sure pays off for the technocrats.

Monday, October 17, 2005

You don't hire the arsonist to rebuild the house she burned down

Here's some shocking news: rich and poor people see poverty differently. According to a report in the Guardian, it turns out that rich people are much more likely to see poverty as a result of not working hard, while the poor are much more likely to see it as resulting from things out of their control.
``We're looking more and more like a developing country,'' said Luz Vega-Marquis, president of the [Marguerite Casey] foundation. ``We have a concentration of wealth in the top 5 percent, but what is happening to the middle-class and poor people?''
It comes as no surprise that rich people would consider their wealth and privilege as earned rather than inherited or the result of social networks, better access to resources like schooling, jobs and health care, white or gender privilege or just because they stand astride a system that takes from the bottom and distributes it upwards into their bank accounts. And yet, social mobility remains quite limited in America. As the Economist reported in late 2004,
Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.

Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.
That's not to defend the old disparities in wealth. That's a liberal argument. We ought to be aiming for zero disparity, which can only be achieved through seizing of the means of production, deposing the rich and redistributing their wealth. Let's not get all teary-eyed for a past that was rife with inequality, but it is instructive to consider current trends.

In another sign of the growing inequality, the UAW has signed a deal with GM which shifts more of the health care costs onto its workers. Externalizing these costs will doubtless save the company a lot of money. Too bad the workers aren't cars - they could benefit from GM's generous warranty program.

Partly thanks to GM's externalization of the environmental impact of its product, the online journal of the National Academy of Science reports that in the coming century,
the southwest United States could endure as much as a 500 percent increase in hot events, leaving less water for the growing population, that the Gulf Coast region would receive more rainfall in shorter time spans and that summers in the northeast would be shorter and hotter.
But all is not lost. According to a story in the Independent, scientists hope that the European probe to Venus will help them "understand the nature of the intense greenhouse effect heating Venus." Sounds great, but if an arsonist burned down your house, would you hire her to rebuild it? Scientists bear much blame for the current state of the environment, why should we trust them to fix it? You don't need to send a probe to Venus to know that the only way out of this mess is to end this ruinous experiment with industrialism and technological society.

Scientists report more of the obvious in another Independent article: "High rates of air pollution... may be linked to increased rates of miscarriage." But then science has been at war with women's bodies for a long time, hasn't it.

Computerworld has an interesting interview with the CEO of ActivMedia, a robotics company. Hilariously-- and unironically -- sub-titled, ActivMedia's Jeanne Dietsch says mobile robots make good corporate citizens, Dietsch pimps her company's latest invention, "the PatrolBot... a roving security device that includes audio, a navigational laser, a video camera and other sensors." Designed to be relatively autonomous, some versions can
set up what's called a laser checkbox, and if anyone walks through this particular area, the robot will notify the guard. Some of the robots have some sort of access control system, a card reader or iris scanner on them. So they can say, "You must identify yourself now."
And there's more.
If you have the system integration module, you can link up with a third-party control system. In that case, if it's integrated, the Honeywell alarm can call the robot to the door. Eventually you'll be able to follow the person, but now it just tells the person, "You must swipe your card." It can notify the alarm system of its location.
In a case of one's own technology coming back to bite you in the ass, the New Zealand Herald reports on an article from the Independent that a series of bombs that have killed British troops in Basra, Iraq, recently came not from Iran, as the Brits have claimed. Instead, it seems that "the bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers were initially created by the British security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy in the early 1990s."
"The thinking of the security forces was that if they were intimate with the technology, then they could develop counter-measures, thereby staying one step ahead of the IRA," a senior source close to the inquiry explained. "It may seem absurd that the security services were supplying technology to the IRA, but the strategy was sound.

"Unfortunately, no one could see back then that this technology would be used to kill British soldiers thousands of miles away in a different war."
I'm not posting this to imply opposition to the rights of self-determination or self-defense for Iraqis or the Irish. But just how long are we going to allow these governments to continue to externalize the unpredictable costs of their imperialist and technological ambitions? You don't hire the arsonist to rebuild the house he burned down.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Better regulation through cell phones

More news on the cell phone front today. The AP reports that
...the Missouri Department of Transportation is finalizing a contract to monitor thousands of cell phones, using their movements to map real-time traffic conditions statewide on all 5,500 miles of major roads.
The government claims we shouldn't be worried, because the information will be collected anonymously. Privacy advocates aren't so sure:
"Even though its anonymous, it's still ominous," said Daniel Solove, a privacy law professor at George Washington University and author of "The Digital Person." "It troubles me, because it does show this movement toward using a technology to track people."
Less sophisticated traffic monitoring technology is being used to justify the more obtrusive methods. According to the AP, the slippery slope goes like this:
Governments have had the ability to measure traffic volumes and speeds for years. They can embed sensors in pavement, or mount scanners and cameras along the road. But those monitoring methods require the installation of equipment, which must be maintained, and can take only a snapshot of traffic at a particular spot.

In contrast, "almost everyone has a cell phone, so you have a lot of potential data points, and you can track data almost anywhere on the whole (road) system," said Valerie Briggs, program manager for transportation operations at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
But the tracking doesn't rely on the GPS that has been installed in almost every cell phone.
Instead, it takes the frequent signals that wireless phones send to towers and follows the movement of the phones from one tower to another. Then it overlays that data with highway maps to determine where the phones are and how fast they are moving.
Of course, there's no reason on Earth to believe the government when they say that they will only analyze aggregate data, or that they will only use that data for traffic control. The state routinely utilizes cell phones to bust people. Channel 4 News in Detroit reports that police used cell phone calls to arrest a man accused of breaking into several cars: "Andrew Soper was taken into custody after investigators traced calls he allegedly made on a stolen cell phone, according to the Ann Arbor News."

Similarly, the Rockford Register claims that police apprehended a man wanted in an assault through a cell phone he left at the scene of the crime.
While police were talking to the victim, a cellular phone on the ground began ringing. The caller ID displayed a number registered in the phone’s contacts under “home.”

Police radioed the phone number to the communication center, which traced it to a residence in the 2700 block of Sewell Street where police located Lingelbach and Aaron R. Clarke, 19.
And the San Mateo County Times is running a story about a man, James Daggs, arrested after dropping a cell phone during a robbery.
When no one claimed the phone after a week, a police detective removed the battery to determine the serial number in order to trace the phone's owner. After obtaining a search warrant, the detective learned from the telephone company that the owner was Daggs' brother, who said he had given Daggs the phone four months earlier.
And the cell phone has made it easier than ever to be a rat. The Lake County Reporter's police blotter for 10/13 carries a story of a cell phone user following a drunken driver and phoning his location in to police.

One more important note for criminals. The Houston Chronical reports that Finnish researchers have developed a cell phone that can tell the way you walk from any one else. This is for your protection, it turns out.
"A device is equipped with sensors that measure certain characteristics of the user's gait. When the device is used for the first time, these measurements are saved in its memory," VTT said in a statement.

The gadget would monitor the user's walking style and check it against the saved information. If the values differ, the user would have to enter a password.
You can bet that the police will subpoena that information as well, just to make sure it was you carrying your phone when you torched that police car. And good luck cross-examining a cell phone.

It's important to realize the way that the cell phone also has begun to operate as an ID, for many purposes. It contains so much information that even physical possession of the device can reveal much to police or other interested parties. In fact, the devices are beginning to merge with credit cards, and some cell phone users can now use them to make purchases.

Meanwhile, WSAV News 3 reports that Chatham County, Georgia, is upgrading to a new 911 system that can report on a caller's location to within 30 yards. "If I don't know where you are it's just over it's done," said Chatham County dispatcher Jina Fields. One wonders how we managed to get by before this technology? Did we all die terrible deaths without cell phone tracking? Statements like Fields provide an example of the way that technology, rather than empowering us, has in fact infantilized us.

Authorities use our relative independence from tracking by the state or capitalism as a justification for intervention. Bizarrely, our independence or non-integration into the system is treated as a weakness. And then that integration causes dependence, as anyone who has lost their cell phone can attest to. Have you ever faced the dilemma of needing to make a call from your dead cell phone without being able to use someone else's because you can't access the number in your dead phone? Your memory has been transfered to the phone and when it doesn't work, yours doesn't either.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Control: the unstated logic of technological advancement

There have been some stories in the news over the last couple days that might be of interest to folks who read some of the recent posts on here. First, we have more developments in the application of vein and biometric identification.

Reuters reports that "Japan's Hitachi Ltd. said on Tuesday it aimed for 100 billion yen in sales of its finger vein authentication systems over the three years to March 2009, up from several billion yen a year now." That's quite an increase. Hitachi points out that finger vein ID systems, which can be as tiny as a matchbook, are much smaller than iris identification systems.

An AP article, however, touts the benefits of iris identification: "Iridian Technologies Inc., based in Morristown, N.J., has developed a smaller camera that costs under $1,000 and can photograph the iris of a user 18 inches away..." In Colombia, banks increasingly use fingerprint identification. Almost one quarter of the customers at Colombia's fifth-largest bank, BanCafe, registered to use the new technology when fingerprint ATMs were installed. Fingerprint transactions now make up fifteen percent of the banks total. The technology has so far made limited gains in the United States.

Researched continue to push forward, with technology driving need, since the security is not really lacking in the current ATM system. "If I'm a thief and I've got the card, I still don't have your PIN number, so how could they use it?" said Connie Steele, 57, of West Milton, Ohio. Despite the lack of a pressing need for the new technology, the AP reports:
Supporters of the technologies are confident that bank customers eventually will accept the new ATMs.

"The real holy grail in biometrics," said Jim Block, Diebold's director of global advanced technology, "is let's get rid of the PIN so no one has anything to steal anymore."
While ATM security is the argument being advanced here, it's not the real reason for advancing the technology.
Later this year, NCR plans to begin selling finger readers to stores for use by employees and customers who volunteer. The technology is designed to speed up checkout and to prevent theft. The scans verify which cashiers are operating the registers in case there is missing cash and the identity of managers who approve customer checks.
The real purpose is to further reduce the space that the system does not control and cannot account for or regulate. It's important to note that despite the general claim that technology is neutral, we see here that, as in most cases like this, there is in fact an often unstated value judgement implicit in its application. Who says that stealing from the register is wrong? Or that it is always wrong? And, of course, speeding up checkout will increase the exploitation of cashiers by increasing their workload, and it will likely shrink the number required while also de-skilling them and making them easier to replace. This reduces their ability to bring their collective power to bear on management to resolve grievances by withholding their labor. That means no more raises.

Further, the reduction of the opportunities for acquiring cash without the state or capital knowing reduces the freedom we all have. Non-payment of taxes will become increasingly difficult, along with black market or under the table transactions. Unofficial income will become increasingly suspect and at the same time easier to detect. Perhaps more importantly, the amount of flexibility that we have with regard to method and time of payment will be reduced as well, as technological systems generally require very specific categorization of inputs. We've all experienced trying to do something on a computer that ought to be really simple but just isn't possible because of the programming or hardware. And, finally, revolutionary movements very often require less than legal methods for acquiring cash to fund their operations.

But, we'll eventually accept it, the experts say. Of course, will we have a choice? In this case, as in almost every case, technologies are applied to our lives without even the slightest bit of democratic input from those affected. If we don't want them, we'll get used to them. Just because a small technophiliac power-mad elite wants it, the rest of us must get used to it.

The article, "Teen Learns He Can Serve Without Joining Military," posted on the Kansas City InfoZine webpage offers more insights on non-lethal military technology. It opens,
Sixteen-year-old Travon A. Turner always dreamed of working for the Defense Department as an engineer, creating nonlethal weapons for the military. But he thought that dream would never become reality because he didn't want to serve in the armed forces.

Turner didn't know DoD had civilian employees until he heard Air Force Col. James J. "JJ" Campbell talking about the civilian work force in remarks during "Viva Technology Day," at the 17th annual conference of the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation.
This article doesn't really need much analysis. The text and quotes speak mostly for themselves.
He said the Viva Technology event was fun because he worked on an electronics project with students from other schools. "The ideas they had were ideas that most people wouldn't think about," Turner said. "We made a project about changing the molecules of water by taking out the two parts of hydrogen and leaving the oxygen. Then we combined the oxygen molecules to provide people with air when there are not any trees left. But there is a bunch of water, and they can just convert the water into air."
Science will save us once science has destroyed all the trees, or, as Turner himself says, "If there's a problem, there's an engineer to solve it." The converse is also true. Turner talks about what he wants to do once he's working for the Department of Defense:
"I'm not interested in weapons for killing people, I'm interested in nonlethal defense weapons, such as weapons that can shut down cars," Turner said. "I want to invent the types of weapons that will protect the United States and other countries without killing people."
Poor Turner. Again, we see technology being portrayed in a neutral way when in fact it carries with it massive value judgements. First and foremost in this case is the legitimacy of governments using this technology, which presumes a legitimacy of their goals. It shouldn't be a radical statement to suggest that there ought to be a democratic debate on those goals. It shouldn't surprise us, though, that what pathetic little debate there is about US policy goals seems absolutely gigantic compared to the debate we are having about the means planned with which to achieve them.

Getting into more specifics, the Independent UK reports on the new generation of non-lethal crowd control weapons. Ominously titled "Revealed: police's new supergun will blast rioters off their feet," it mentions several new technologies. As usual, the political issues are left out of the debate, and the justifications for the weapons, beyond the vaguely tactical ("to disperse mobs or disable enemy troops") get no press, but the underlying logic is again one of control.

The article is worth reading to see what the capitalists and the state are developing for the future, but I thought the most telling quote was this one: "Modern technologies have also made it much easier to create new arms..." The more we research, the easier it is to research. The more technology we have, the easier it is to make more weapons. Note that the quote does not say, "modern WEAPONS technologies." This is the whole system we're talking about. Weapons technology cannot be isolated away from the rest of it, as some would have us believe. One kind of research benefits another.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The New Orleans PD gives us another lesson in white supremacy

It didn't take long for the New Orleans Police Department to revert to form. Not that they performed well during the Katrina disaster. After all, who can forget the message sent by so many police deserting their jobs when faced with helping rather than oppressing the poor Blacks in those first few days after the hurricane? But right when the issue of race had disappeared from the national conversation (just in time to start planning the rebuilding), the needless beating of an unarmed Black man by a gang of white cops has again forced the issue onto the American agenda. And in the process the media has had to concede the NOPD's long history of racism and corruption, testing again the remarkable ability of white Americans to deny both the fundamental racist nature of the system and the vastly different ways that whites and Blacks encounter that system.

William Bennett's recent comments that, "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down," have shed some light again on the way a sizeable chunk of white people view Blacks. The fact is, while elite policymakers planned the massive criminalization of American Blacks, the fears it plays on are widely shared amongst whites. In the last two and a half decades, the US has shifted its policy towards Blacks from segregation and welfare policy to incarceration and policing. But while the American elite depend on policing to keep Blacks in place, they also depend on the often silent alliance of white skin privilege that every white person is taught to defend, generally with more subtle methods than the police utilize.

Historically, Blacks have always been a thorn in the side of the white ruling elite. Absolutely necessary to American capitalism as a low-wage hyperexploited class, Black folks have also continuously revolted against this status. The cheap labor of the slave necessarily brought with it the threat of the slave revolt, and this pattern has continued even as the particular nature of the exploitation of Blacks changed form, from slavery to sharecropping to wage labor. Similarly, elites have frequently pitted Black and white workers against each other, generally to undermine white wages and working class power. Thus, Black labor became to be seen by whites as a threat, and in times of economic crisis whites often resorted to racist vigilante attacks on Blacks.

But, the rise of global capitalism, in which production has been freed to seek the lowest wage abroad, has created a dilemma for the American capitalist class. And the hard-fought Black struggle for equality has opened up opportunities for some advancement for a small number of people of color. But just as police forces keep local poor folks away from the mansions of the wealthy capitalists, the off-shoring of domestic production has increased the physical distance separating the capitalist class and the Third World laborers they exploit. With this development, Black labor as a whole in the US has become increasingly unnecessary from the perspective of the capitalist class, especially with the influx of Mexican and Central American labor. Thus, elites have embarked on a genocidal project aimed at eliminating as much as possible of the Black population. The primary tool employed for this purpose is the prison system. As incarceration of Black males has swelled in the past twenty-five years, so has there been an accompanying drop in the African-American birth rate. It's worth remembering that the United Nations defines genocide in five main ways, including "[i]mposing measures intended to prevent births within the group."

It is in the context of a really existing genocide against African Americans that we must consider Bennett's words. Towards this end, Alexander Cockburn addresses Bennett's remarks on his website Counterpunch.org. Amidst all the liberal moral posturing, Cockburn delves into the history of forced sterilization, and makes sure we don't forget that in the United States, eugenics was very much a liberal cause. He says,
The keenest of these cleansers were not Southern crackers but Northern liberals. States pioneering sterilization laws included La Follette's Wisconsin and Woodrow Wilson's New Jersey. Around the country, after Indiana led the way in 1909, eugenic sterilization was most energetically pushed by progressive politicians, medical experts and genteel women's groups. In the mid-1930s Alabama's governor, Bibb Graves, vetoed a sterilization bill enthusiastically passed by the legislature. The populist Graves cited "the hazard to personal rights".
This history should not be forgotten, and we should not allow revisionist or opportunistic liberals to shift the blame onto conservatives, who have plenty of their own sins to account for.

On the same website, Robert Jensen considers the question, "Is Bush a Racist?" The liberal tendency to ascribe various extreme personality traits to Bush serves to obscure the real politics behind his actions. First, it suggests that if we just got someone different in office - a Democrat, presumably - that Bush's racist policies could be corrected. Second, it fails to acknowledge the existence of a system of white supremacy - an amalgamation of racist policies, attitudes and institutions - that functions regardless of the individual opinions held by those at the top. To take an example, ascribing the government's reaction to Katrina to Bush's racism fails to explain why Bill Clinton's tenure was so disastrous for Blacks. And it also fails to explain why Bush has appointed so many more Blacks to top positions of government than previous presidents. Jensen suggests another solution:
That’s probably the most pressing race problem in the United States today -- a de facto affirmative-action program for mediocre middle- and upper-class white men that places a lot of undeserving people in positions of power, where their delusions of grandeur can have profound implications for others.

If the deficiencies of George Bush and people like him were simply their problem, well, most would find it hard to muster much sympathy. But they become our problem -- not just the United States’, but the world’s problem -- when such folks run the world.
Surely Bush suffers a disconnect from the daily realities of life in America for poor Blacks - and the poor in general. But Jensen's argument still fails to describe the whole picture. So, Margaret Kimberley weighs in on the Bill Bennett question in an article from the most recent issue of the BlackCommentator. She is concerned with what his comments say about white America in general, not just a few elites at the top:
If Bennett really feels that aborting all black fetuses is immoral and reprehensible, the words would never have entered his mind. The comments were William Bennett’s own Freudian slip that gave us a frightening peek at the secret desires of many white Americans.
She reminds us of the depth of the problem,
Comedian Richard Pryor posed a question about how and whether America saw black people in its future. He noted that futuristic science fiction films rarely if ever had black characters. Was this absence a creative oversight or were we being given a hint?...

...Bennett is not alone in dreaming about dead black babies. Whether the thought is spoken aloud or not, the American fantasy is a world without any black people in it.
That's a very important point - one that a lot of liberals don't really seem to get.

Finally, the Observer this weekend delves into the racial divisions in the United States, including the wealth disparities in Black America itself. The article examines the ongoing disparities and paradoxes about modern life in America for Blacks.
Never have blacks had so much legal freedom, yet there are record numbers in jail. Traditional black neighbourhoods have collapsed into drug-ridden crime strongholds, even as the black middle class is the biggest in history.
The contradiction of a small percentage of Blacks rising to wealth and power while so many of the rest linger in perpetual poverty remains unresolved in America, but suggests to us that our critique has to go beyond the person specifically holding the reins of power. Again, from the Observer:
...[T]herein lies the problem. Even as the old racism lies dead, its legacy endures in the American economy. As the black middle class grows and black politicians rise to the pinnacle of power, wealthy America - both black and white - has still not come to grips with the problems of its millions of poor black citizens.
America is a white supremacist system, now as it ever was, and that system extends far beyond the oval office. A white supremacist system in the hands of even those with the best of intentions will continue to function as a white supremacist system. Because of the hierarchical nature of America, and thanks to the social promotion of white skin affirmative action, there are plenty of opportunities for even average whites to exercise racist power over Blacks, if only through tacit support for the system or following the law. But, if it's the system that's the problem, then we need to start moving our solutions beyond it. If we can't reform it, then we need to start thinking about drawing our lessons from other sources. Nat Turner and John Brown offer two examples.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Police technology and the disappearance of uncontrolled space

There have been several stories in the local press recently about police technology. In the Arizona Republic, there was another article on the three escaped tent city inmates, all of whom have now been recaptured. Sheriff Joe has seen fit to electrify the fence surrounding the place, but this observant trio figured out a way around it. By climbing a section of an interior fence and then walking across another non-electrified pole, they managed to escape.

That story is pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, since a camera recorded the breakout, the weakness cannot be exploited again, at least not in the same way. Being against prisons obviously means opposing the physical means of confinement, and it's pretty easy to take a position against barbed wire, surveillance cameras and electrified fencing. But what about DNA testing?

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Tucson's police DNA lab, like many across the country, is experiencing a backlog of as much as nine months. That means a lot of things, but it certainly means people who are innocent sit in jail for longer. And we've all heard plenty of stories about convicted men and women, some facing very severe sentences, exonerated thanks to DNA testing. Right now, Drew Whitley, convicted more than a decade ago of murder, waits for the results of just such a test that he hopes will clear his name. “The DNA will prove that I'm an innocent man,” he says.

The fact is, much more often than not, DNA testing is used by the state not to exonerate, but to incarcerate. And when the facts don't match up, police and scientists lie, like West Virginia State Police forensics expert Fred Zain did. Like all tools of the state, DNA testing primarily exists to quantify and control, not to liberate. And as much as we like to pretend that scientists stand apart and independent of social pressures, ideology and bias, this is rarely the case. Technology is typically sold to us by highlighting its most liberty-friendly qualities, even though in practice technological advances routinely fail to deliver. And, most importantly, they reduce the physical and mental space not under the control of the state or capitalism.

And so DNA testing has been sold to us as a liberatory technology, freeing the wrongly convicted from jails. But, in fact, when we look closer what we see is that DNA testing, first discovered in 1985 and applied to criminal prosecutions in the US starting in 1989, parallels quite naturally the massive incarceration boom, which has added well over a million prisoners since 1985. Along with the rising prison population, the state's DNA database has exploded as well. Further, the cheaper methods currently used have expanded the types of crimes testing is used for. In California, DNA can be taken and processed for misdemeanors cases. DNA testing, far from freeing us, has intensified the state's war on the poor.

But the state isn't the only authoritarian institution in America. Business is increasingly finding uses for the technology. In a current high profile case, the Chicago Bulls demanded that center Eddy Curry take a DNA test to determine if he is likely to develop the potentially fatal heart disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Curry refused. NBA commissioner David Stern came out in support of testing. He further suggested testing all rookies.

Which brings us to Taser International. Always controversial, Taser International recently dropped the "non-lethal" classification from its widely used Taser stun gun. The weapon has been linked to more than 100 deaths by Amnesty International. Despite this, many people agree with Taser International CEO Rick Smith when he said, "It's far safer than hitting somebody with a baton or a club. I mean, those are caveman-era tools." The AP reports today that the ACLU has filed suit against the Scottsdale-based company, hoping to restrict their use. And yet even the ACLU parrots much of the Taser line: "While the Taser stun gun has the potential to save lives ... it poses a serious health risk as long as it remains largely unregulated." It seems all the ACLU wants to do is put a better, cleaner weapon in the hands of the police.

The ACLU and so many critics of Tasers fail to recognize that the weapon is part of a much larger project of technological social control through the development of less- or non-lethal weapons. Unlike guns and billy clubs, non-lethal weapons do not threaten the myth of the democratic state, which must be seen as responsive and accountable to the people to maintain legitimacy.

In that sense, the many violent reactions of the state to people's power inherently threaten the logic of its continued existence. And the mythology of the democratic state has always allowed it to falsely portray movements that seek to challenge the system rather than participate in it as counter-democratic. The development of non-lethal technologies, like Tasers, represent an attempt by elites and scientists at finally closing the door on revolutionary movements once and for all. In the next few years, we can expect to see the deployment of these technologies for both individual and crowd control. Many of these systems are already deployed overseas, and some have seen use domestically, such as in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

But the myth of the democratic state is just that - a myth. Whatever their merits, democratic states still maintain massive divisions in power and wealth. And, like all states, they seek to preserve the power of the wealthy elite in charge. And they know, just like we ought to know, that social change comes not from within the system, but from outside it, from movements that seek to challenge it on terrain that it does not control as completely as it does the ballot box or the airwaves, sometimes as a mob in the streets or as a few individuals in a resistance cell. These new technologies represent one part of an attempt to close that space once and for all, and to solidify for all time elite rule. That's why our position on these technologies must not be one rooted in compromise or the logic of the dominant class. Our position must be entirely oppositional and abolitionist. Unlike the ACLU, we must be against Tasers, not just against their irresponsible use. And that goes for the rest as well.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

British Double Agents & Other News From Iraq

Autonomy & Solidarity has an interesting article on just what those British undercover agents in Iraq might have been up to when they were apprehended by Iraqi police after a mob attacked them. Were they tracking jihadist cells - or were they participating in or even setting up terrorist groups? The article delves into the history of British intelligence double agents in the IRA to point out that there is at least precedence for that kind of thing.

The always interesting AsiaTimesOnline website has a provocative article on the Iraqi Insurgency, in which a Lebanese journalist asks the obvious question:
"Why are Americans condemning foreign fighters in Iraq? Are they including themselves in this category, or considering themselves native fighters of Iraq?"
It delves into the nature of the insurgency and the strategies involved. Particularly of interest to those involved in anti-war organizing should be the message that Iraqi insurgents don't just want the US to leave; they want it to leave on their terms. Said in a way that has meaning for us in the anti-war movement, the US could very well leave Iraq entirely absent domestic pressure, as long as it can do so on its own terms. But insurgents don't like those terms (nor should they). Anti-war folks can learn from this one simple thing: if we want to make sure that the US is not able to win some or all of its war-time goals through withdrawl, we need to make that option impossible. The conditions of the withdrawl are at least as important as the withdrawl itself.

Currently, the US is trying desperately to transition to Iraqization, which, as the article points out, essentially means substituting Iraqi casualties for American. But the Iraqi forces are no where near ready to take on this task, which, it's worth noting, would only amount to accomplishing US goals by other means. Which explains why insurgents are so keen on killing Iraqi security troops. A recent Washington Post article reported that Iraqi forces have taken casualties of about twice that of US forces, which is quite amazing given that their numbers are so small. Remember, of the 100 Iraqi battalions the US is standing up, only one is currently rated ready for combat on its own. One battalion is 750 men.

Meanwhile, in a surprising case of American car culture coming back to haunt us a world away, the Boston Globe reports that the government is investigating car theft rings in the US that might be linked to the Iraqi Insurgency. It seems that a surprising number of autos used in carbombs in that country have come from the United States. Iraqi bombers like them because American cars in the US are better able to sneak up on American convoys without arousing the suspiscion that the smaller cars more popular in Iraq do. Plus, gargantuan American domestic cars, once stripped of their non-essential parts, can hold more explosives.

But irony is never far from a warzone, and Iraq is no exception. The Iraqi Parlaiment acted today to reinstate the death penalty for "those who commit...terror acts," and "those who provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit these crimes." Those with longer memories might recall that the former American governor of Iraq, Paul Bremmer, abolished the death penalty after the invasion. Of course, Bush's pro-death penalty position only heightens the irony.

Beyond the military situation in Iraq, Corpwatch reports, in depth, on the situation of non-Western foreign workers in Iraq. The massive low-wage army has gone mostly unremarked on by American journalists. Unlike American contractors, for instance, these third world workers get lousy pay and suffer terrible conditions, including death by American or Iraqi fighters. For instance, despite a Philippines government ban on travel to Iraq, there are an estimated 6000 Filipino workers in Iraq. While the US government admits there is no way to know exactly how many foreign workers are in Iraq, it isn't reluctant to point out the benefits of the low-wage labor force. They're much cheaper than American troops. With large amounts of US trickle-down dollars funnelled through top-down government agencies and US corporations, it's no wonder that billions of dollars have turned up missing and yet so little of it has made it down to the workers?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Corsican Workers Battle French Police Over Privatization

Corsican workers battled police today as the labor action against government plans to privatize a ferry company cointinued to gain strength. Workers blockaded the port for four days with a ferry they occupied, stranding many tourists. Firecrackers, rocks and flares bombarded the cops as they attempted to put down the workers' actions. At one point, an apparent rocket attack left a customs boat in the harbor a smoldering wreck.

Meanwhile, the protests have spread both beyond Corsica and beyond the ferry workers themselves. Sympathetic workers in Marseille blockaded an oil refinery and attacked a government building with another rocket while children and families of the workers marched in protest. The long simmering Corsican independence movement has added fuel to the fire. Below are some photos from the last few days actions.

Read more here:
Clashes, apparent rocket attack escalate violence in Corsica

Police unblock Corsican port to allow in supplies


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