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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The rising cost of keeping a roof over our heads in Arizona

Affordable housing, including trailer parks, has become one casualty of the Valley's increasingly rapid development. In the Arizona Republic today, Lisa Nicita writes about the effect rising land prices have had on available lots. She reports that the number of trailer parks in the Valley has dropped by around ten percent in the last year, while the population, on the other hand, has skyrocketed. Last week, the US Census Bureau issued a report detailing a record influx of population to the state last year. Now counting around six million residents, the state added almost 200,000 new arrivals this year alone, which, at 3.5 percent easily tops the already high 2.5 to 2.9 percent growth rates of the preceding five years.
[Sandra] Naegele, a Queen Creek town employee, said she'll have to move to Mesa or Apache Junction if [the park where she lives] closes, because there's nothing else in her price range in Queen Creek.

"This community is not staying (the same)," she said. "It's good, there's beautiful homes and all that, but the price ranges are not going to be for the people that have lower incomes. That part is too bad because some of them have only known here."
Further complicating the issue, some trailers in these parks may not be fit to move, and the costs of moving can total many thousands of dollars. Moving can also damage the homes, and some older trailers may not be allowed in new parks.
"It's been really hard for a lot of the families in there," Naegele said. "The kids worry. The parents worry. At first I was real apprehensive because suddenly you're going to be relocating and you don't know when or how."

Sanokai Village, one of the last low-income housing options available in fast-growing Queen Creek, is the latest of several mobile-home parks in the Valley to be swept away by a hot real estate market. Increasing land values have prompted park owners from Mesa to Scottsdale to Florence to sell, leaving residents in the lurch, looking for somewhere new.
The Queen Creek city manager, Cynthia Seelhammer, expressed little sympathy and was vague with any solution. "It's a loss of something historic that was beneficial for many families. It's a loss of affordable housing. But, we're hoping that over time we'll be able to replace it with an alternative."

The Arizona Daily Sun reports that apartments, as well, have increasingly become unaffordable for working class people.
Assuming only 30 percent of wages should go toward rent, a Flagstaff renter would need to earn $17.44 an hour at a full-time job to afford a two-bedroom apartment here. Affording a one bedroom apartment would take $15.44 an hour, or about $32,000 a year.

But the survey showed the average wage of renters in Flagstaff is $8.83 an hour.

Put another way, the gap between what landlords are charging for one- and two-bedroom units and what renters can afford in Flagstaff amounts to hundreds of dollars a month.
In Phoenix, where the gap between the actual and recommended income of renters is not as stark, the difference still amounts to nearly $2.50 an hour. Of course, minimum wage workers are nearly locked out in that case, and in many small cities, as the Associated Press reported last week, even government workers have had to buy or rent out of town, often many miles away, just to find affordable housing.
Firefighters, police officers, government employees and service workers can't afford the area's housing, either. Many live in small towns outside Flagstaff, where housing is less expensive.

"People in Phoenix and Tucson aren't the only ones making long commutes to find housing they can afford," said Sheila Harris, director of the Arizona Department of Housing. "It's not uncommon for people to live in Williams and work in Flagstaff. But that commute can be long and hazardous, particularly when roads are icy."

The Housing Commission's report was based on 2004 data, and the problem has worsened in 2005 as most Arizona communities have seen double-digit jumps in home prices.

People working in Lake Havasu are living in Mohave Valley and driving 100 miles round-trip to their jobs.

Second-home mecca and resort community Sedona has the highest home prices outside metro Phoenix. Much of the work force needed to run the town doesn't earn enough to afford a home there. Employees at Sedona resorts and restaurants had been buying homes in Prescott, almost 70 miles away, but now housing prices have soared there, too.
Even with the market showing some signs of cooling off, home prices in the Phoenix area jumped 55 percent last year. The Arizona Daily Sun reports that "The median housing price in Flagstaff this year jumped 40 percent from 2004, topping $320,000, while the city's median family income of somewhere between $55,000 and $60,000 failed to keep pace." Racism and sexism further limits access to and the ability to afford housing, and women and people of color suffer disproportionately because of housing discrimination, wage disparities and the challenges of single motherhood, among other factors.

While the shrinking availability of land for development is one part of the problem, absentee landlords and investors comprise another. The Wall Street Journal reported on December 7th of this year that "as many as 30 percent of properties for sale [in Phoenix] are currently owned by investors," those people who already own at least one home and were purchasing another to rent or sell. It's a scandal for landlords, barely tolerable in general, to own multiple dwellings at the expense of poor and working class folks - many of whom build and service those very homes.

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that things have gotten worse for many of the workers who can afford homes. The Arizona Republic ran an article in October declaring that,
[t]he number of people across greater Phoenix at least three months behind on their mortgages and in danger of losing their homes climbed a staggering 50 percent during the past two years, hitting a record 14,178 in 2002. The foreclosure rate is rising so rapidly that it's outpacing record increases in home sales and prices. So far this year, home foreclosures climbed an additional 10 percent.

"Too many Valley homeowners are living too close to the line," said Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center. "Wages haven't gone up, but insurance, health care and just about every other cost for a household has."
The Valley's unemployment rate is hovering around 5.4 percent. Two years ago, it was below 3 percent.

"It's scary," said Rick Mason of Labor's Community Service Agency. "People lose their job and then their home."

Many of the area's laid-off workers have gone through their savings or severances and are struggling to make mortgage payments."Lately, I have seen people lose $500,000 houses because one income goes away, and people lose $150,000 homes because someone gets sick or their car breaks down," said Carol Jones of the Valley firm Foreclosure Solution Services.
There is some hope that the cooling housing market will serve to improve this situation some, but without an increase in the power of the working class to extract wage and other concessions from the capitalists (and eventually to overthrow and expropriate them entirely), long-term prospects remain dim. We can't rely on the market to solve the housing crisis.

Under capitalism, the system recognizes no inherent right to housing. Further, those who do own property unfairly derive from it the right to establish an authoritarian relationship over those without it, such are renters (1)(2), employees, customers and citizens (1) (2) in general, backed up by the further authority of the police and government. A movement that seeks to permanently solve the housing crisis must set as its goal the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a right to housing based on self-administration and cooperation.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"No contract, no work." Not this time.

Apparently the answer to my semi-rhetorical question in the title of my last blog post is, "No." In what seemed like a stunning course reversal, transit workers returned to the job just three days into the strike, with the question of the two-tier pension unanswered. The New York Times reports today that a deal may be in the offing next week.

But what has been gained by the short strike, which seemed so promising just a few days ago? Many of the rank and file seem confused by union president Toussaint's return to work order.
"He should have stayed out for as long as it took to get what we wanted," said Douglas Weiss, 45, a bus driver. "Toussaint should have stuck with it and kept on fighting, but he showed weakness. I feel disappointed, absolutely; my leader let me down. Now we're back at work with much lower morale than we had before we walked out."
Nathaniel Brisbane, 46, a train operator, said, "I would not re-elect him. We went on strike and came out with nothing because Roger Toussaint was afraid to fight. His decision left us looking like fools. Our failure in this strike is his fault."

In the end, Toussaint's reputation will likely hinge on what concessions he extracts from transit bosses. If he can protect the pension system without giving up much else, his decision to pull back from the illegal strike will look a lot better than it does right now, with transit workers laboring for the first time ever without a contract - a major break from the union's "no contract no work" tradition.

For some useful analysis of the strike from the inside, check out the Revolutionary Transit Worker (thanks to Sphinx for the tip). RTW reminds us that no amnesty has so far been negotiated for striking workers, who now face two days pay in fines for every day they were out on strike.

In other news, New Scientist reports that new software will make it possible to identify people in pictures taken from cell phones.
The phone will allow the growing number of camera phone users to organise their digital photo albums by automatically identifying and labelling the people and places within each snap, as they are taken.

The concept, being developed by Marc Davis of Yahoo's Berkeley research lab in California, is based on a central server that registers details sent by the phone when the photo is taken. These include the nearest cellphone mast, the strength of the call signal and the time the photo was taken.

The system also identifies the other Bluetooth-enabled cellphones within range of the photographer and combines this with the time and place information to create a shortlist of people who might be in the picture. This can then be combined with facial-recognition algorithms to identify the subjects from the shortlist.
Facial recognition software, according to the story, can only identify people 43 percent of the time. However, "by combining it with context information the system could correctly identify people 60 per cent of the time." The software can also be used to identify places.

Along the same lines, PC Magazine is reporting on the increasing spread of GPS technology, which now no longer requires GPS devices in all cases. Some of the emerging technology can function on other platforms, such as Pocket PCs, PDAs and certain cell phones. Thanks to new developments, people can now tag locations with notes and reminders (which other people can view), as well as receive location specific advertising. And, of course, the boss has a use for it as well:
"If you're running a courier service, Navizon will let you find out where your delivery guys are and if they can be at the next job on time," [Cyril Houri, founder and CEO of Mexens Technology] said. "A company like Zagat could also add this positioning feature to the PDA version of their guide, so users can find the best place to have dinner, but also the closest one."
And with that a little more autonomy on the job disappears in the name of efficiency and higher profits for the boss.

Wired Magazine reports that Americans are more addicted than ever to their electronics. According to the article, "[t]he bill for being thoroughly plugged in to entertainment and communications runs more than $200 a month for a third of the households in this country. Four in 10 spend between $100 and $150 a month, according to the poll of 1,006 adults taken Dec. 13-15."

[a]lmost half of personal computer owners say they can't imagine life without their computers. About as many cell phone owners say the same thing about their portable phones.

The intense loyalty to high-speed Internet is a sign that people are getting hooked on newer technology. Almost four in 10 people with high-speed internet say they consider it essential. About two in 10 feel that way about their DVD players, digital cable and CD players.
"Our culture is about distraction, numbing oneself," said David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in high-tech issues. "There is no self-reflection, no sitting still. It's absolutely exhausting."

On a slightly different note, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors declared that 153 police officers died on the job last year. Of those, the largest number were killed in traffic accidents, leaving only 60 to be killed in shootings of various kinds, including training. This marks the continuation of a thirty-year downward trend.
"The increased use of body armor, better training and, more recently, the advent of less-lethal weaponry have all played a role in bringing these numbers down," said National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Chairman Craig W. Floyd.
This is an interesting point, because we essentially have a law enforcement booster admitting the role that less-lethal technology plays not in saving civilian lives, but rather in protecting police.

To my knowledge, no similar database exists to tabulate all those killed by police in the US, but it's worth looking back to a Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the ten most dangerous jobs in America. Cop isn't on there, seriously undermining the myth, most often trotted out after police shootings, that policing is a very dangerous job.

The government's case against the ELF continues to evolve. The tragic and suspicious death in custody of suspected Vail arsonist Bill Rodgers is one of the latest developments. A couple days back the Rocky Mountain News ran an interesting - though it's hard to know how accurate - article depicting an inside view of one ELF cell's activities, allegedly provided by an informant. Ominously, the cops promise further arrests in the next six months. The Denver Post ran a condescending and one-sided column denouncing eco-terror around the same time.
So if you're part of the Earth Liberation Front or any other self-professed radical environmental organization, you can skip all the Woodstock nicknames. You can also disabuse yourself of the notion that you're saving the planet. The people who burned Two Elk lodge hurt themselves and everyone else who cares about preserving public lands.

"Eco-terrorism has been used by opponents of the environmental movement to generalize about the extremism of all conservation efforts," [executive director of Colorado Wild Ryan] Bidwell, said.
Unfortunately, Bidwell has his timeline backwards. The extremist characterization came first, and, if anything, moderates like Bidwell benefit from the pragmatic way their approach looks in the context of environmental direct action like that practiced by ELF. The article does show just how afraid moderates and establishment types are of direct action. Direct action repudiates the mythology of the liberal state - that the system is responsive to democratic pressures.

"The way to show people the value of public lands and threats to public lands is to get the word out," said [director of the Western Mining Action Project Roger] Flynn.

No one makes the argument that getting information out isn't an important part of any campaign, environmental or not. And the most radical action is not always the best action to take. But the repudiation of direct action in general shows a serious failure in analysis.

Finally, in the looming apocalypse category, the US Department of Energy revealed on Wednesday that US greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, reaching in 2004 the highest levels ever recorded. The report seems to cast some doubt on the government's claim two weeks ago that its voluntary measures to cut global warming-related gases were working.

One last note: As many have probably already heard, NORAD this year celebrates its 50th year tracking the generally peaceful Santa Claus with their weapons systems. Compare these two sites:

NORAD Tracks Santa (the phone number is hilarious)
NORAD.mil (make sure to check out the kids page)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Can an old labor dog re-learn some old tricks?

I've collected here some news on the NYC transit workers strike. Several interesting articles have turned up. As is widely reported, State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones has ordered the president of 100 of the Transport Workers Union to appear in court, where he may face jail for continuing the illegal strike. Mayor Bloomberg, ranked by Forbes as the 34th and 94th richest person in the country and world, respectively, is outraged by the audacity of transit workers. Remember this is the billionaire mayor "who once spent $2 million on a 'seven deadly sins' party for his company, complete with a 'gluttony bar' and entertainers who repeated the phrase 'Money, ain't it gorgeous?'

Bloomberg, perhaps motivated by the steep rise in limo rates, rushed - as always - to the defense of New York's working class, said this in a recent Guardian article:
Working people are the ones who are being hurt. The busboy is getting hurt, the garment industry worker is getting hurt, the owners of mom and pop businesses ... The ones getting hurt the most are the ones who can least afford it. If they don't get paid, they don't eat.
Surely, New Yorkers seem divided on the strike, which the National Association of Manufacturers blog called "dumb on so many levels," characterizing the unions demands as a "letter to Santa."
They now contribute not a cent to their health care (know anybody with this perk?) and are rejecting the MTA's "outrageous request that they contribute a whopping 1% (Yes, you read that right: one percent) to their health care. They want the retirement age lowered to 50. (You'd have to say that's moving in the opposite direction from the rest of the civilized world, no?) and they want to put a cap on how much discipline the MTA can mete out to its members.
Not surprisingly, NAM has been on the wrong side of almost every issue, recently endorsing Alito for the Supreme Court and pushing for ANWR drilling. But a bunch of wealthy factory owners complaining about the generosity of workers benefit packages, while not unexpected, certainly reeks of hypocrisy. Generous packages, work autonomy and pensions are worth defending.

But the effects of the strike are not so clear - and certainly not evenly shared. The Wall Street Journal reported
For some on Wall Street, the transit strike has a silver lining: An early vacation. "During the week before Christmas, you get a lot of vacations already. Throw the strike on top of it, and it gives people so many more reasons not to come to work," said Lundy Wright, head Treasurys and agencies trader at Nomura Securities in New York.
In the article "Technology helps companies, commuters work around transit strike," the Associated Press quoted Merrill Lynch & Co spokeswoman Selena Morris saying, "We're open for business as usual. It makes it a lot easier for people to function when you have a crisis like this, just to log in from wherever you are. It's inconvenient, obviously, but I think we've been able to work around it."

Professor of economics at Columbia Business School Frank Lichtenberg also remarked on technology's role in insulating the elite from the effects of the strike. The strike, he said, "does still represent a significant disruption," but "clearly this information technology has reduced the cost of this kind of disruption and made it somewhat easier to bear."

In a report from the AP, we learn that
Homeless advocates and city officials say the walkout that has closed the nation's largest transit system has also potentially displaced hundreds of homeless people who use the subway's trains, stations and tunnels for shelter, especially during winter.
Local shelters claim they can handle any increase in residents that results. AFP reports that the strike has contributed to a blood shortage in the city.

In his attacks on the union, Bloomberg has been throwing out some pretty large numbers - $400 million or more dollars a day - as the economic cost of the strike. But do the numbers really add up? The Wall Street Journal takes a look at them and concludes that
forecasting economic impact is easier when a local event is less diffuse, like a major sporting event or political event, when organizers know how many guests to expect. Yet even these forecasts are dicey and often more useful to boosters than economists... The higher estimate on transit-strike costs, of $440 million to $660 million, is more nebulous.
The author reports that
[s]everal economists I spoke to questioned the methods behind the estimates, and some called the numbers inflated. What's more, a lack of day-by-day economic stats from the city, coupled with the difficulty of accounting for economic activity that was shifted to before or after the strike, will make it impossible to verify, after the fact, whether the projections were correct.
Yet the media has repeated Bloomberg's unreliable claim uncritically, sometimes even citing higher figures.

And speaking of the media, the strike has been like an early Christmas present. As the New York Times reported, "For television, this transit strike is a G-rated disaster: full crisis coverage without death or destruction, just inconvenience."
News choppers lovingly hovered over stalled traffic on the Queensboro Bridge while on-the-scene reporters hunted for stranded commuters they could assist. On Tuesday morning, a Fox 5 news team joyfully stumbled on a young woman in labor stalled in traffic on her way to the hospital. A Fox promo made the most of the incident, urging viewers to "see how a Fox Five crew helped her out." (The crew alerted a police officer.) The pregnant woman looked a little less thrilled by the moment. When the reporter asked her if she was expecting her first child, she replied, "And my last."
The local Fox affiliate ran a value-laden banner graphic with its coverage: "Illegal Transit Strike."

Most interesting, perhaps, are three facts: One, the union has engaged in an illegal action; Two, the international leadership has denounced the strike; And, three, the Transport Workers Union has some rocky relationships with many of the other New York Unions.

How this will all play out remains to be seen, but the fact that strike is already illegal opens the door for militant action, like sabotage and occupation. In addition, it's aggressively defending against the imposition of the two-tier benefit system. Defending the pension system is important, a point made even more clear by an AP article today revealing that more and more employers are freezing their pension plans. Aside from the fact that the Transit Authority, reeling from corruption scandals and flush with more than a billion dollar surplus, could certainly afford the demands being made of it, a two-tier system is a death-blow for a union. It undermines solidarity amongst workers and also provides leverage for the boss to subvert wages and benefits in the future, as well as inviting attacks by management on senior employees nearing retirement. Will other New York unions come to the transit workers defense when things heat up?

Further, not much coverage has been given to workers non-pension complaints, such as
the closing of toll booths and the reassignment of workers to cleaning and other chores, the large number of disciplinary actions against workers, and the proposal to eliminate the conductor on trains who is there to monitor what is happening with the train and the passengers.
Train operators complain about the fear of driving through tunnels filled with debris; female workers recently went public with descriptions of the rusted, filthy, freezing bathrooms provided for them.
Clearly there is more at stake than just pensions. And the union has shown a pro-active and aggressive stand so far, which bodes well for them. They know that if they don't go after the MTA now, they might be forced to take them on under less advantageous circumstances. And going out against the wishes of the international, while maybe not preferable in all cases, is another good sign in terms of the likelihood that local workers will have a say in the direction and goals of the strike. Democratic control is obviously vital to a militant workers movement.

Not much attention has been paid to the president of local 100. It's worth checking out the article Newsday ran about him today. There is some criticism in the article of his dictatorial management style, but it is encouraging that he seems to have some understanding of the stakes and a bias towards militant action.

Of course, sectarian, authoritarian leftists are sneaking around, hoping to go for a ride at workers expense. If we're lucky, this strike foreshadows a renewed militancy and pro-active orientation for American workers. According to the recent Newsday article above,
[t]he strike could... inspire other unions to become more militant, particularly on employee benefits issues. Or it could be a disaster.

"I think it could have a lot of influence," said Freeman, a labor historian at City University of New York's Graduate Center. "Employers all across the country are trying to roll back benefits such as pensions and health care, and it could be very influential elsewhere if it succeeds in stopping or diminishing these efforts."
Time will tell.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Digital crime investigation: the Real Time Crime Center and the continuing war on uncontrolled space

Some people are calling the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) the NYPD's "biggest technological leap ever." According to NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, "[It puts] a wealth of data at our fingertips and vastly speeds up the ability to make connections, increasing the likelihood that we catch the criminals before they strike again." And, "[w]ith 15 workstations at their disposal, the 26 investigators and analysts working there around the clock can access the past five years' worth of city crime records, 31 million FBI crime records, and over 33 billion public records."

As PC Magazine online reports,
Prior to the RTCC, detectives on an investigation were chiefly responsible for gathering records and analyzing possible linkages and trends on their own. The RTCC automates much of the work by giving them the ability to refer to multiple databases instantaneously. They can search for key characteristics of crime suspects' nicknames, tattoos, weapons used—and cross-reference them to area crime reports, 911 calls, and other information. Results of searches can be overlaid on a satellite image map.

"We must continue to implement innovative strategies in order to drive crime down even further," said NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg at the press conference announcing the launch. "More and more, these efforts are involving the sophisticated use of information to identify and stop emerging crime spikes before they become dangerous crime trends."

For now the RTCC is dedicated to homicides and shootings, but it will expand its functionality as warranted [emphasis mine].
According to another article on PCMag.com, thanks to RTCC, "[o]nce a suspect has been identified, officers can rapidly scour billions of public records, finding a suspect's possible residences and relationships, which, in turn, can lead to more searchable locations." MySpace users ought to consider seriously the intention of the police to search personal relationships in public databases, because, as the recent wave of FaceBook-related investigations shows us, they do not plan to ignore information suspects provide about themselves willingly online.

At the risk of quoting too effusively, consider this summary:
[Police] can review transcriptions of the 911 calls related to the crime and a location-based analysis of the crime scene. MapXtreme Java 4.7.1 and MapInfo Pro provide satellite images of the scene that can be overlaid with notes of criminal complaints in the area and the locations of anyone recently arrested or on parole in the area. And each crime's unique bits of evidence—a perp's weapon or tattoo—can be cross-referenced against reports with similar characteristics. If a particular pattern of criminal activity already exists or the crime signals the start of a new pattern, the pattern-tracker application lets officers update the database instantaneously.
Some think that this kind of database could lead to possible infringements of civil liberties, but when it comes to technology, I think the critics are mostly missing the point. While any system like this is sure to lead to violations of civil liberties, that's not the reason authorities have built it. They have developed it precisely so they can improve their efficiency within the current framework of civil rights. The hope is that the new technology will greatly increase the ability of the police to wage war on the poor without resorting to extralegal violations of rights.

This is not to say that the police won't violate our rights, or that technology heralds a new era of respect between oppressor and oppressed. Obviously as long as there are police, they will continue to break the law, often violently. But the promise of technology from the perspective of the police is not the power it gives them to abuse us in rogue fashion. No, it's the legitimacy and force multiplier that it bestows on them that they find so attractive.

Take, for instance, the deployment of a portable fingerprint reader by the Mesa PD in Arizona.
Starting this month, drunken-driving suspects arrested in the annual police holiday crackdown are being fingerprinted using a portable machine that is the size of a suitcase and costs about $45,000. The process, a first in Arizona, takes about 15 minutes.
The device offers police a couple of advantages. First, it is more efficient:

"The idea here is identify the person right at arrest and eliminate the court appearance, and there is no question about identification hearings," Officer Brad Withrow said. "It is locking that person with that arrest."

Second, it constrains our ability to escape the system which, regardless of whether a crime was actually committed or not, does not have our best interest in mind.
Withrow, who spearheaded the project, said getting the prints right away can make a difference because some drunken-driving suspects will provide a false name or license to avoid prosecution.

Recently, a Mexican national who used 10 aliases in separate drunken-driving cases, including some in Mesa, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, Withrow said.
The space for resistance is reduced. As Mesa City Prosecutor John Pombier says,

"The quicker you get the fingerprint in the system, the quicker you know who (you) have, and from a justice standpoint that is the real value. We don't want people taking advantage of the system. We want to hook up the right conviction to the right people and the right charges."

A similar system has been in use in Scotland, where police justified the new technology based on its capacity to establish identities even though only around one percent of those arrested gave false names. As in the United States, civil liberties advocates have overlooked the real issue:
John Scott, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said: "I think that we should always be concerned that if the authorities have access to this kind of technology, then there is scope for misuse.

"It will lead to more people being randomly stopped and questioned, because the police will think they are able to identify people easily and quickly through fingerprints."
Of course, abuse is likely, but the point is not its misuse, but rather its use, which will quite legally close a loophole through which many illegal immigrants and others quite rightly escape in their justifiable desire to subvert or avoid state control. If civil libertarians hope to do anything more than merely temper the increasing capacity of elites to regulate every aspect of our lives, they will have to begin more broadly questioning technology itself.

"Everyone's brainwave signal is a bit different even when they think about the same thing. They're unique just like fingerprints," said Julie Thorpe, a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa. Thorpe is working on a project that she hopes will "do away with key cards, pin numbers and a litany of other security tools that allow people to retrieve bank money, access computer data or enter restricted buildings" by creating "the first biometric security device to read your mind to authenticate users."

Similarly, Techweb.com reports that Vue Technology and Symbol Technologies Inc. plan to work together to develop "item-level" RFID tagging. The advantages derived from the technology are many, but, importantly, "[t]agging individual items, along with cases and pallets, could become the deterrent to counterfeiters and thieves the retail industry needs, according to AMR Research." Theft is an important means of wealth redistribution. Among other important uses, workers supplement their paltry incomes through theft and those in need procure necessary items that way. The underground economy - an important and often more affordable alternate distribution system - depends on theft as well. Again, we see the deliberate application of technology to restrict and administer those ever-dimishing aspects of life that remain unregulated by the state and capital.

Tracking is vital for modern societies, and getting citizens to voluntarily participate is vastly preferable to imposing it on them. The spread of GPS systems in vehicles illustrates the way that both methods inter-relate.
Clem Driscoll, an analyst with C.J. Driscoll & Associates, a marketing consulting and research firm specializing in GPS and wireless products and services, thinks the market is ripe with opportunity.

"Factory-installed GPS navigation systems are now available on over half the vehicle models sold in the North America. Over a million new vehicles sold this year are equipped with navigation systems," Driscoll said. "This has created greater consumer awareness of GPS navigation and its benefits. Also, an increasing number of auto manufacturers are featuring vehicle navigation in TV ads."
The above illustrates the way manufacturers have imposed the technology on American car buyers. However, much of the American public is not averse to being tracked:
Karen Drake, PR Manager for TomTom, said, "Consumers in general are becoming more aware of the advantages of personal GPS and on-demand navigation. They are looking for easy ways to have information readily available whether while driving their own car, a rental car or even cruising on a motorcycle. Grab and go GPS devices provide consumers with the convenience to accommodate their busy travel schedules, and in general provide improved technology vs. built-in navigation systems."
Indeed, the technology has proliferated, as the Northwest Herald reported: "Factory sales of GPS units, both the handheld and automobile kind, are projected to grow to 738,000 this year from 162,000 units in 2001. The average price, meanwhile, has dropped to $473 from $888 during that span."

Still, despite the overwhelming enthusiasm with which Americans, corporations and governments welcome GPS technology, some do dissent. In his International Herald Tribune article, "Dear Santa, no nav system for me, please,"Ted Conover writes, "The problem, to me, is that navigation by GPS changes the nature of car travel: It makes it seem all about numbers (distance to destination, time to destination) when I'm trying to preserve a sense that travel is also about something else."

But those who critique only the aesthetics of GPS - even when they decry the mechanization of the driving experience - miss the real point: technology wages a war on our ability to control the fundamental aspects of own lives, and then uses the resulting disempowerment as a justification for the imposition of even more technological regulation.
All of the companies seem to agree that ease of use is a priority for them. Dave Marsh, director of Navigation Products for Cobra Electronics, agrees. "The number one feature is ease of use. Consumers are busy today; they don't have time to read a manual, set up a complicated system, or follow special instructions to use a mass market product. Our product development effort has centered on making the most easy to use product in the category -- something that is off-the-shelf, out-of-the-box, and into-your-car," Marsh said.
Or, as one consumer put it recently, "I'll probably never buy another car without [GPS]. It would feel weird driving without it now.''

Perhaps that's truer than she knows.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Future policing: A Chandler rookie cop and Tempe's wi-fi gentrification plan

The East Valley Tribune has an article that, for some reason, had me laughing all the way through it, although I know that wasn't the author's intention. Over the last year or so, the Tribune has been following a police recruit from test to the street, and now the guy has graduated and finally been let loose on the street, all by himself. Each quote I read from Chandler officer Blake Fairclough has me picturing him posing, Reno 911 style, dropping dubious cop-slang and tough-guy attitude on us from behind his badge.

Take this gem:
"Graves [graveyard shift] are good if you like to hunt," he says with enthusiasm. "If we get a call, it’s legit. We don’t get kids prankdialing 911. If they’re calling 911, there’s a good reason. Day shift gets burglary reports, but we get the burgs [burglaries] in progress."
Or this one:
During one traffic stop, Fairclough is unsure whether a woman’s driver’s license is valid or not, so he asks another officer for advice. Later, he is on the lookout for a drunken motorcyclist reported by Chandler Fashion Center valets.

"Do we know if it’s a crotch rocket or a cruiser?" Fairclough asks the dispatcher over the radio, using the slang term for a racing motorcycle.

"Unknown," the dispatcher replies, but soon sends him a computer message: "I can’t believe you said crotch rocket over the air." His fellow officers just laugh.

Other officers have warned him about women they call "uniform groupies," or women who chase after police officers.

"You just have to stay professional," says Fairclough, whose girlfriend has remained supportive throughout his journey.
The article opens up with him pulling over a car with a broken light:
"I want to stop him and see who he is," he says, the red-and-blue police strobe flashing overhead.

The rookie has been taught that this is one of the most dangerous parts of the job. You never know who is in the car. He walks cautiously to the driver’s side, hand resting on the butt of his holstered gun.

Walking back to his cruiser minutes later, he swivels his head behind him, eyes locked on the car. Never turn your back, he’s been trained. "I gave him a warning," Fairclough says, climbing back in the cruiser. "They just came back from Bible study."
Christians don't get tickets, apparently. We're likely safe to assume there is a high probability that this was a case of stopping someone because they are poor, given the light being out, but was it also racial profiling? We don't know for sure, but Fairclough's statement, "I want to stop him and see who he is," implies that he thought something was suspicious involving the driver himself. Arizona cops routinely racial profile, as recent studies and court cases prove.

Also note that the writer says, "[t]he job has become increasingly dangerous with more guns being used against officers." But no figures are given to back this statement up. Given that police are perpetually portrayed as under threat, and that this risk, real or not, is used to justify all sorts of police excesses, it's worth regarding this statement suspiciously. As a point of reference, a Houston Chronicle study last year showed that one-third of all people shot by the cops there were unarmed, reporting that "[l]aw enforcement officers in Harris County have shot 65 unarmed people since 1999, killing 17." In 2002, for instance, Phoenix police alone shot 28 people, a rate more than twice that in notoriously trigger-happy LA. Certainly that by itself is reason to treat police claims on the matter with much skepticism, especially given the political agenda such arguments support, such as purchasing new equipment or expanding force size.

In security news, the Arizona Republic reports that the security cameras at Scottsdale Community College are back online after an act of God short-circuited the system four months ago. Still, some have complained about the lack of coverage in the meantime. One student, whose car was stolen from a parking lot during that brief window of opportunity, complained:
"I couldn't believe it, especially since (surveillance warnings are) posted all over the place," Michael Fischer, a business marketing student, said of there being no record of the midday theft. "It gives you a false sense of security.
SCC cops report that one car a year on average gets stolen from the school's parking lots. To protect one car a year, we all get spied on, to the point of feeling insecure when Big Brother ain't there watching over us, as poor Fischer points out. Well, fortunately for him, cameras continue to proliferate all over the Valley. For instance, Fischer should feel quite safe on the 101 Freeway soon.

And he should be quite happy to hear that the Mesa Police have been using a new piece of camera technology that allows cops effortlessly to scan hundreds of cars for stolen vehicles. The Mobile Plate Hunter 900, which costs $25,000, can read plates from all 50 states and Mexico, and can function in all weather conditions. The system
includes a mobile magnetic scanner with three cameras. The cameras focus in different directions and move so fast that a patrol car can cover a shopping center parking lot in about an hour, said [detective Thomas].

The images are sent to a computer that runs the license plates against the Department of Public Safety's stolen-car list. If there is a match, an alarm sounds to alert the officer.

Right now, police officers must manually type in each car's license plate number and it's a hit-or-miss method, Thomas said.
Aside from the specific use, the main advantage of these technologies, from the cops' point of view, is that they free up the police to do other tasks, like racial profiling or shooting unarmed people, for instance. As detective Thomas euphemistically puts it, "The officer can continue looking for other things, while this device detects." Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell sums it up this way: "[The placing of cameras on the 101] allows us to take officers who've been assigned stationary speed enforcement on the 101 and put them back in neighborhoods." Said yet another way, the cameras allow the police to expand their oppressive power by redirecting human resources without compromising surveillance.

On a slightly different note, gentrification spreads via the internet in Tempe, according to a story in the East Valley Tribune. The Associated Press article, "Tempe heading for citywide wireless Internet," highlights the proliferation of wireless technology throughout the city. But, make no mistake, this project isn't as inclusive as it appears, even though it's touted as providing universal access. Tempe wi-fi is firmly rooted in the city's gentrification project. According the the article,
[c]ity officials hope that by making high-speed wireless Internet as accessible as water or electricity across its 40 square miles, it will attract more technology and biotech companies — and the young, upwardly mobile employees they bring, said Mayor Hugh Hallman.
So, as with most city projects, if you aren't a yuppie, don't expect that the city planners really have you in mind as a beneficiary of services like this, which are very much launched with a future constituency in mind - one that city planners intend to attract, rather than the one already in residence. Poor and working class folks may incidentally benefit in the short term from projects like this, but the goal is to move us out and replace us with the real target demographic, the yuppies.

But, there's another reason to oppose the new wi-fi system - one that isn't as loudly proclaimed by the city, though it does appear as a bulletpoint at the bottom of their website.
The municipal network negotiated in the lease agreement will provide a future backbone for communication devices that utilize frequencies set aside by the Office of Homeland Security (4.9 GHz), providing a migration path for Public Safety communication. Wireless broadband will play an invaluable role in helping to protect the public and Tempe’s public safety employees.
So, the police plan to use it. ComputerWorld.com reports that city officials will be able to take "advantage of real-time video surveillance over the network." This seems likely, since the technology has been used for surveillance in the past in other places.

It's a little technical, but this excerpt from the Networkworld.com article is worth considering at length:
The mesh video surveillance system reportedly works as follows: The Dallas Police Department establishes a command center on the Dallas fairgrounds. In addition to off-duty police officers walking the grounds, AgileMesh video servers and software reside in the command center, and video surveillance cameras around the park plug into FireTide HotPort wireless mesh nodes via Ethernet cabling. Four video cameras were reportedly installed along the Midway and two, with full pan, tilt and zoom control, were placed on top of the Cotton Bowl facility. Cameras receive power over Ethernet, eliminating the need for additional power supply and cabling.

As with any mesh architecture, the mesh nodes automatically discover one another over the air and auto-configure themselves, enabling the network to scale simply as nodes are added with no wiring required. In this way, remote cameras can be added without the need for costly network cabling back to a central site; cameras simply plug directly into a mesh node, and the mesh nodes backhaul content wirelessly.

According to Firetide, the surveillance network has already helped police nail vandals and a thief stealing valuable landscaping plants.
This section reveals the advantages and flexibility that the new technology will bring Tempe police engaging in video surveillance throughout the city. In particular, we can probably expect police to take advantage of this during downtown events, so look for more mobile cameras in the future. And it will also likely enhance the power of the police to enforce the rapidly developing gentrification of downtown Tempe.

GovernmentEnterprise.com says this about the advantages authorities hope to derive from the technology in an article on their website: "The city said that all police cars and fire trucks will have a built-in Wi-Fi-enabled laptop that will have an always-on connection to the network." Nevertheless, these technologies are repeatedly sold to us as progressive, or as Tempe government puts it, 'Tempe is a showcase for Technology, and once again demonstrates the progressive nature of the community, making Tempe “The Smart Place to be [odd capitalization theirs, not mine]."'

A November 26th article in the Republic reports that Chandler may be next to implement the wireless network, thus linking the two cities in "the first contiguous network where you can go from one city to the other, and that together will be the largest in the United States and the first multi-municipality roaming network."

Tempe's wireless may be good for cops, bureaucrats, businesses and yuppies, but is it good for the rest of us? The evidence suggests not.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The threat of nanotech and the willing surveillance society

All you MySpacers and such take note. Several articles report that school authorities increasingly use the personal webpages to discipline students. In this age of disappearing privacy, more and more people have begun posting personal information online, effectively doing the investigative job of the police and other authorities for them. Facebook.com claims 10,000 to 20,000 new users sign up every day, growing exponentially. Some claim that the site will garner more hits than many major websites soon; it already ranks ninth in hits in the US.

Physorg.com reports that Fisher College expelled two students for what authorities claim was a plan, posted on the students' Facebook page, to catch a college police officer in a sexual harassment set up. According to BG News,
Penn State University Police used Facebook to find students who disrupted a game against Ohio State University. Students at Northern Kentucky University were penalized for posting photos of a drinking party on their Facebook page.

Kansas State University made use of Facebook to look into possible breaches in the campus's honor code when students used Facebook to trade information without the professor's knowledge.
Chips, the student newspaper of Luther College, in an article on facebook.com, quoted the school's Assistant Dean of Student Life, Bob Felde, saying,
“I don’t want students to be deluded in thinking that these [Facebook accounts] are private things. If you put something on it, you had better be prepared for your mother or future employer to see it.”
“Some institutions methodically have Facebook trolled and there are lots of situations where people have gotten burned,” he continued.

The rise of voluntary participation in these kinds of websites raises all kinds of questions about the sort of society we are becoming, and whether privacy will even be an issue for a culture that so openly displays its information on the internet for all to see. But, just because it's freely given doesn't mean it's legal, and increasingly people have been doing the (now much easier) job of the police for them.

So, while police surveillance on the internet is a concern for a supposedly free society, very often these days it's regular citizens turning each other in, not the police. "It's usually students turning each other in," said Dana Walton-Macaulay, assistant director for student rights for UK's Office of Residence Life, in an article in the Kentucky Kernel. Organizations, like perverted-justice.com scour the internet for criminals, including visiting chat rooms and assuming fake identities to lure out alleged pedophiles. Certainly, with the increasingly public way in which so many of us display our associations and social networks, this can only make the job of a police and reactionaries easier.

On a slightly different note, the Associated Press reports on the increasing penetration of personal technology into the classrooms. But will it help kids learn?
"Despite the fact that we have spent gazillions of dollars in schools on technology, it's still just a leap of faith that kids are better educated because of that," said Robin Raskin, the founder and former editor of FamilyPC magazine. "Students need to have some opportunity to digest material serially, like reading a book from end to end. A tiny screen might stop you from being an analytic thinker 'cause you just can't see enough of a thing at once."
While the results seem mixed, one application for the technology has proven itself: "Studies show that when used regularly, such media-rich instructional tools can work well to assess student performance." Regimentation, assessment, quantification - the lifeblood of modern technological societies - are the true 'benefits" of the technology, and early introduction to technology ought to be viewed less as a learning tool and more as a ideological mechanism for getting kids used at a early age to the many ways they will be tracked and evaluated in a society steeped in individualism yet so little interested in them as individuals.
"I don't know if it's that they feel cool or they're just jazzed about the technology," Ross said. "But having some of those bells and whistles make the kind of information they really need to learn exciting."
Without a doubt.

But in an age of increasing isolation and atomization, all hope is not lost. India Times reports about the invention of the cyber hug. Pioneered on chickens (I'm not kidding), the cyber hug is a tactile suit that a child can wear, sort of like high-tech pajamas, which can transmit sensation via the internet. Of course, it doesn't take much imagination to see what this technology will really be used for, but for now the inventors say
each suit will receive signals via the internet, and interpret the data to adjust to changes in pressure and temperature. In effect, children will actually get a "hug" from their parents and vice-versa, if parents wear these suits as well.
"These days, parents go on a lot of business trips but with children, hugging and touching are very important." So, rather than analyzing the kind of society we have in which children aren't getting the kind of attention they require, we have the cyberhug instead. After all, technology causes and then fixes our problems.

Nanotechweb.org, in an article on their website, reports that new research reveals that some nanotech particles bond with genetic material and cause increased cell death and impede a variety of other essential cell processes. Similarly, PhyOrg.com reports that computer simulations reveal that buckyballs, nano-sized carbon structures, bond with DNA, "causing the DNA to deform, potentially interfering with its biological functions and possibly causing long-term negative side effects in people and other living organisms."

Researchers had been optimistic
despite earlier studies that have shown buckyballs to be toxic to cells unless coated and to be able to find their way into the brains of fish. Before these cautionary discoveries, researchers thought that the combination of buckyballs' dislike of water and their affinity for each other would cause them to clump together and sink to the bottom of a pool, lake, stream or other aqueous environment. As a result, researchers thought they should not cause a significant environmental problem.
But, "[i]t turns out that buckyballs have a stronger affinity for DNA than they do for themselves." Buckyballs have been the subject of much optimistic anticipation in the nanotech industry.

Also tackling the issue of nanotech, Mike Treder, Executive Director for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, writes on futurebrief.com about the technology's potential impact on society:
Behind the economic and military power surges... is the strength of emerging technologies. In particular, advanced nanotechnology – molecular manufacturing – is expected to enable dramatic changes in virtually all areas of life, including the home, the hospital, the boardroom, the battlefield, and the natural environment. Some refer to this as the next Industrial Revolution, and that is not an unreasonable comparison.

The big difference, however, between previous industrial revolutions and the nanotech revolution is the time span covered. Steam engines, electricity, the automobile, telecommunications, computers: these all brought extreme transformations to society, but they each did so over a period of decades. When molecular manufacturing arrives, probably before 2020, a shock wave of change could reverberate around the world in only a year or two. Never before have disruptive impacts occurred so rapidly.

Some of the troubling implications include: massive job displacement causing economic and social disruption, threats to civil liberties from ubiquitous surveillance, and the specter of devastating wars fought with far more powerful weapons of mass destruction.
Treder's article is interesting, but while it does focus on the way the technology may affect power relations in the world, it fails to recognize that the applications of those technologies will be on the elite's terms. He hopes to manage the technology "to ensure that such awesome power will be used responsibly." Treder treats the technology as a neutral force in the world, as if the "displacement" he foresees derives as a natural consequence.

But nanotech, like all technology, isn't a natural force - it is consciously directed by the rich and powerful, who fund it, subsidize it, research it and apply it. A more appropriate way to view the technology is as a tool wielded by the ruling class and applied against the rest of us, for their benefit. Society will be reshaped and reordered through the technology according to how it will enrich the elite or increase their control over society.

For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists cites on its webpage a recent study revealing that
a leading agricultural economist finds that while some drug and biotechnology companies may profit from these "pharma crops," aggregate farmer benefits are likely to be small and rural community benefits may be much more modest than often portrayed.
Biotech firms, among others, have been pimping their products to growers, promising increased revenue from smaller fields, among other things. But,
[t]he major benefits of a successful pharma crop industry would be expected to go to companies in the form of reduced production costs. If the companies pass cost savings along to consumers, society may benefit from cheaper drugs. The net savings in production costs will be at least partially offset by the costs of containment needed to protect the food supply from pharma crop commingling. Contamination from open-air production is considered likely because most drug-producing crops are food crops such as corn, rice, and soybeans, and most pharma crop production occurs in areas where food versions of the crops are grown.
Cross contamination and mixing of engineered product with organic and other strains is a real worry, made even more frightening by pharma crops, which could corrupt foods with drug- and industrial chemical-producing genes. It should come as no surprise that that benefits of gmo technology will accrue primarily to the rich companies. It's not a coincidence, also, that the benefits are sold to us as if they will be widely shared. But, most likely, the costs will be imposed on us, through environmental and health effects, while the profit and benefits will get kicked upstairs.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Progress, capitalism and the state: authoritarian polyamory in action

A report by the National Nanotechnology Initiative provides more cause for concern when it comes to nanotechnology. Currently, $9 billion is being spent on nanotech research worldwide. Of that, $1 billion comes in the form of federal subsidy, of which, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies’ head scientist Dr. Andrew Maynard, "approximately $39 million annually in government funds... are directed at environmental, health, and safety R&D... to explore possible adverse health, environmental and safety impacts of engineered nanomaterials or nanoparticles.”
“Specifically, out of a total of 161 federally-funded, risk-related projects, the Project’s scientists found only 15 relevant to occupation-caused physical injury (totaling $1.7 million), and only two highly relevant projects on the long-term environmental and occupational exposures that potentially could cause disease (totaling $0.2 million)."
Basically, what that means is that the nanotech industry, in its rush to capitalize on its heavily subsidized research, it passing off the health and environmental costs onto its workers.

That makes the new study by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, entitled "Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties," seem awfully optimistic when it concluded, as reported on OUT-LAW.com, "that there were no significant concerns at present." Especially since products, including some involving food packaging, have increasingly arrived in the local store. Just check out Forbes lists of top nanotech products for 2003 and 2004 and you might be surprised. Sadly, while the wild enthusiasm of the scientists, salivating at the idea of expanding their control of the world to the nanometer scale, seems reassuring, the lack of research in the field proves that confidence to be largely ideological in nature.

Perhaps nothing highlights the danger of nanotech in consumer products more than the boom in nanotech applications in the cosmetics industry. As Lenka Contreras, vice president of research firm Kline & Company, says, "Women just don't mind spending a lot of money to look younger." And, so, exploiting the opening that patriarchal society has afforded them, (mostly male) researchers have forged ahead, experimenting on women's bodies without fear of regulation (the FDA does not have oversight power over cosmetics).

In an article in the Sunday Times, Lois Rogers reports that "The cosmetics giant L’Oréal is marketing a range of skin treatments containing tiny 'nano' particles, despite concerns about their possible long-term effects on the human body." The problem according to the prestigious Royal Society is, “We don’t know whether these particles are taken down through the skin and what the long-term effects might be in the bloodstream.” Rogers also reports that
L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, is devoting much of its £350m research budget to nanotechnology, which it believes offers great potential for slowing the effect of age on the skin.
However, the problem is, as reported in the New York Times:
"It's too early to tell whether nanotechnology will be particularly advantageous in skin care, but there's no question that everyone is interested in exploring it," said Gerald N. McEwen Jr., vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
Whereas conventional cosmetics are generally designed to protect skin, nano-particles are designed to penetrate it, obviously increasing the danger.

Meanwhile, MIT news reports that researchers there have developed a way to create real-time maps of the city by tracking cellphones.
"For the first time ever we are able to visualize the full dynamics of a city in real time," said project leader Carlo Ratti, an architect/engineer and head of the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This opens up new possibilities for urban studies and planning. The real-time city is now real: a system that is able to continuously sense its condition and can quickly react to its criticalities," he added.
Translated: Bureaucrats and police will steal a little more of our autonomy from us, managing us subtly and more efficiently as we cruise around the city. From the researchers website:
[T]hese devices can be used as a highly dynamic tracking tool that describes how the city is used and transformed by its citizens. The polis is thus interpreted as a shifting entity formed by webs of human interactions in space-time, rather than simply as a fixed, physical environment. Mobile Landscape provides a platform upon which the contemporary city can register the flux and traces its self-constructing and open-ended nature.
Generally, the bureaucrats and police have been in conflict with spontaneity, "self-constructing" and the desires of people to control their own physical space, so this new tool will likely not be used in a libertarian way. But, any tool which permits them real-time analysis of the movements of people will certainly be presented by the authorities as promising more freedom to citizens, through efficiencies wrung out of the system by streamlining, reorganization and flexible planning. Unfortunately, the truth is that the regulation of the bureaucrat will only provide more space for exploitation by the capitalists, as they continue to prey on our free time like the wolves they are. Any freedom that peels off from the herd as a result will be picked off, for sure.

A little closer to home, the East Valley Tribune's Ed Taylor reports on
IntelaSight, a start-up company that creates and operates security surveillance systems for business customers, is only two years old and has just 15 employees. But Mesa officials hope it will become an engine of future economic expansion in their city.
David Ly, IntelaSight's president and chief executive, showing a criminal disconnect from reality, describes his company's mission this way: "We wanted to do something unique to the needs of society today. We believe that security will be at the forefront of our concerns as a society."
Linda Paul, director of marketing and communications for the Mesa United Way, which organized the mayor’s breakfast, said IntelaSight has the potential to become a hot growth company.

"Their product was so germane to the rest of the audience, which was mostly developers," she said. "This guy has a product that belongs in all of these projects."
What does IntelaSight do?
IntelaSight sets up camera networks at plants, warehouses and other places of business and monitors the activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from an off-site operations center in Phoenix. The company has 15 customers in Arizona and California, including a municipal airport, public school, large industrial sites and public storage facilities.

The firm uses the Internet to transmit the real-time images, allowing it to monitor locations virtually anywhere in the world from its Mesa and Phoenix operations centers. The owner of the business also can monitor the same images from laptop computer, cell phone, personal digital assistant or any other Internet-enabled device.

The system is equipped with software that helps to alert IntelaSight personnel if something suspicious is going on. IntelaSight will notify local police, the business owner or on-site security guards if anything is amiss.
It has obvious uses for security, but it also has implications for security guards, who would do well to interpret this as a technological attempt to de-skill them.
The company charges $30,000 to $40,000 to install hardware that can cover a 5-to 7-acre site. There’s also an ongoing monthly expense of $1.25 per hour per camera.

But the system reduces the need for on-site security guards who earn $15 to $20 an hour.
I'm not generally a defender of security guards, but at least you can bribe one, plant one, disable one or even just outsmart one. Apart from serving as a class war tool, the camera system definitely makes revolutionaries jobs a little harder, as well.

Finally, one bit of news for those who are concerned with the increasing frequency with which new diseases are jumping from other animals to humans, or with the increasing mutation and resistance of existing germs (see staph, strep).
A deadly bacterial illness commonly seen in people on antibiotics appears to be growing more common _ even in patients not taking such drugs, according to a report published Thursday in a federal health journal.

In another article in the New England Journal of Medicine, health officials said samples of the same bacterium taken from eight U.S. hospitals show it is mutating to become even more resistant to antibiotics
The previously rare germ, known as C-diff, which was responsible for perhaps as many as 200 deaths over 2 years in Quebec causes severe diarrhea and was previously limited primarily to patients taking antibiotics. Now, strains have emerged that are resistant to them, and have proliferated surprising many scientists. The Star Tribune reports:
Strains of the germ have been detected among people who have never been hospitalized, raising alarm that the infection may be emerging more widely and posing a broader public health threat, the researchers said.
Typical of this increasingly common phenomenon, the resistance most likely derived from overuse of antibiotics. "If you have severe diarrhea, seek attention from a physician," advises one doctor. Doctor, heal thyself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

White supremacy and the class consciousness of the white working class

The New Republic has posted an interesting article on its website. "The Minutemen Are More Mainstream Than You Think," by Eve Fairbanks, raises the point that many on the left are not taking the Minutemen as seriously as they ought to. Generally, liberals have treated the Minutemen as an extreme phenomenon, rooted in the America's far Right. Fairbanks writes,
A recent Post headline explained that "ON PATROL IN VT., MINUTEMEN ARE THE OUTSIDERS," while The Nation described a Minuteman rally as a "fringe political event." In short, the Minutemen are widely regarded both as outside agitators to the areas they patrol and as politically marginalized extremists.

But most of the Herndon Minutemen I met live just minutes away from the 7-11 they watch, next door or down the street from the day-laborers who cluster opposite them across Alabama Drive. And, while their actions are obnoxious, their concerns, far from being fringe, echo decidedly mainstream anxieties about cultural questions raised by uncontrolled illegal immigration. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that a full 54 percent of Americans actually have a "favorable impression" of the Minutemen, while only 22 percent have an "unfavorable" view. For liberals to dismiss the Minutemen as a tiny minority of racist throwbacks, loathed by the communities in which they operate, isn't just inaccurate. It's also naïve--and politically dangerous.
She continues,
This discomfort manifests itself as concern both about crime and about broader changes in the local culture--i.e., how the local immigrant community lives and socializes.
But, these feelings, she points out, aren't confined to just the media stereotype.
These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.
Though Fairbanks doesn't go far enough, dodging the centrality of white privilege and white supremacy to the immigration issue, she does have her finger on a very important point: support for the Minutemen is not an extremist phenomenon. And why would it be? White privilege and white supremacy are not extremist ideas in American society, so why should its militant defenders be considered extremist?

In what can only be more evidence of the appeal of anti-immigration sentiment amongst white Americans, Minuteman chapters have spread across the country quite rapidly, appearing now far outside the original border states of the Southwest. The LA Times carried a story recently about this growing trend of anti-immigrant direct action beyond the borders, reporting as well on the new tactic they have adopted: harassing day laborers where they gather for work.
The Minuteman Project, controversial for its border patrols, is trying something new: looking to fight illegal immigration in the nation's interior by targeting employers. The group is organizing in communities including Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C., monitoring and reporting businesses that hire suspected undocumented workers.

The self-appointed border security group is finding willing recruits. Since the Arizona-based Minuteman Project began in April, more than 20 chapters have sprung up across the country, said Chris Simcox, the group's national president. He said the organization had "well over 100 requests" from people interested in starting their own chapters.

"We're struggling to keep up with the demand," Simcox said. "It's our aim, by next November, the '06 elections, to have Minuteman interior chapters in every congressional district in the country."
The growth of the movement, even far from the border is quite extroardinary:
The Herndon [Virginia] Minuteman chapter has been growing, driven in part by the Town Council's decision to create a taxpayer-funded site for day laborers, where a community group will help workers connect with employers. The chapter has drawn teachers, retired military men and a police trainee — 120 members since George Taplin, a software engineer, founded it in late October.
Though Minuteman activists report a variety of concerns, including social issues (as Fairbanks reports), what most liberal analysts miss is the class nature of the revolt. The Minuteman movement is advancing a class analysis of American society, albeit a reactionary one, framed through race, as most white class rebellions have been in this country. Again, from the LA Times article, we have this analysis from a participant:
"George Bush is in it for the Hispanic vote, and we're on the receiving end," [Diane Bonieskie, a retired social studies teacher] said. "That's not fair. Before, everybody looked out for everybody else; no one locked doors," she said of her neighborhood. "Now we all have security systems."

Jeff Talley, 45, an airplane maintenance worker who lives across the street from Bonieskie, also joined the Minuteman chapter. "When you start messing with the value of people's houses, people get really upset," he said.

As Talley sees it, illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans — whom it would cost companies more to employ — and that will have long-term effects on American society.

"There's a disappearing middle class," said Talley, a Republican. "George Bush is a huge disappointment to this country. The Republican Party used to be for ordinary people, but no more."
The white working and lower middle class innately realizes the tenuous nature of their alliance with the wealthy white elite that runs the show, even as they fight to preserve the very real advantages their whiteness provides them in this country. The fear of being sold out (i.e., losing their preferential treatment), particularly for another segment of the working class is real and, despite the dismissals of many on the left, a sign of a conscious, though reactionary, political class.

The Courier News, out of Chicago, ran a similar story recently. Illinois Minuteman founder Rosanna] Pulido said, "This insanity has got to stop. We consider (illegal aliens) burglars who have broken into this country."

And Kevin Hansel a Minuteman member put it this way:
"We have a lot of problems out here with illegal immigrants."

Among them, he cited crime — particularly gang activity — and an overload on hospitals and the social system.

"The list goes on and on," he said.
A story in USA Today reflected this political consciousness:
"We're glad [the Minuteman are] here," Meralee Byker Meralee says. "We're not against immigrants. We've lived overseas and love other cultures. But what other country can you walk in illegally and take a job and not pay taxes?"
The underlying assumption is that those jobs inherently belong to someone - white people, primarily - and those taking them away are criminals (with the blame being incorrectly placed on immigrants rather than capitalists). Concomitant with that is the notion that social services ought to obtain as a privilege rather than a right.

The leaders of the movement don't hesitate to flesh out the class nature of their revolt. Chris Simcox, now running for the legislature in California, spoke recently at a conference on illegal immigration, hosted at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills:
What’s kept the United States together is this very strong middle class, but it seems to be shrinking now. The upper class seems to be doing OK. Why is that? Well, we have 10 million illegal aliens coming in to take 10 million middle class jobs, and the illegal aliens are working for one-third or one-fourth of what the middle class workers were being compensated. Well, that’s going to not only put the 10 million illegals into the lower class, a very economically dependent class that’s creating these tax liabilities for the rest of us, but it’s also going to add 10 million American citizens into that lower class, because now they’re either under-employed or unemployed. Now, we’ve got 20 million more needy people on welfare and food stamps, and who need uncompensated hospitalization at no charge – which puts hospitals into bankruptcy.

What I see in the future, especially over the next 10 to 20 years, is a huge expansion of the lower class, and a rapidly shrinking middle class. When that happens, we’re going to be in big trouble. I don’t know ultimately what the consequences of that would be, but I think it’s going to be some type of insurrection. Raid the few rich that have money left and take everything that they have, spread it out amongst the rest of us who have nothing? It’s not a pretty future.

So, I think by eliminating this epidemic of illegal alien immigration, we could fend-off that threat to the middle class.
But stability isn't all Simcox offers the ruling class in exchange for maintaining the cross class alliance of white supremacy with the white working class. Protect the white working class, he says, or risk a class revolution. This, of course, is precisely the eventuality that the creation of whiteness was meant to forestall in the first place (Ted Allen does a great job of exploring this history, as does Noel Ignatiev). Says Simcox:
Certainly, it’s going to result in a decrease in the tax revenues needed to support a dependent lower class and on assimilated class. And I, for one, would like to get out of the 84 percent lifetime tax bracket and get down to something like maybe a 10 percent lifetime tax bracket. But that’s my preference.
Pragmatically, he's offering to trade support for lower taxes, the eternal quest of the capitalist elite.

That class analysis is echoed by a new organization, the eerily named Coalition for the Future American Worker (CFAW). In it's position paper, "Guests who never leave," the organization (a frightening alliance of rightwing and racist organizations, like FAIR) offers this analysis:
Today, there is no evidence of any endemic shortages of labor in any sector of our economy, and given all the incentives being offered for people to remain here permanently, there is even less reason than before to expect that guest workers will ever go home.

The labor shortages that exist in America, in almost all cases, are self-induced. When employers have trouble finding workers, it is almost always because the wages and working conditions are unattractive, not because there are insufficient people to do the jobs. Guest worker programs have become a mechanism for employers to avoid making jobs more attractive to American workers.
This is a fair representation of the analysis of CFAW's constituent organizations' positions, as well.

And it's not like white workers' economic fears are unfounded. While the last ten or fifteen years have shown astounding growth for the rich, including some parts of the middle class, the bulk of middle class folks in this country have seen stagnation or declines in their incomes at the same time. The decline in historically higher white wages, a key feature of white privilege, has caused a two-fold reaction amongst whites. First, whites have begun a racist rearguard action to preserve their wages, at the expense of people of color, including immigrants. Second, this decline in wages has placed an increasing value on the non-wage-related elements of white privilege. Primarily this has manifested in white support for a massive strengthening of the state's policing power, against immigrants (manifested through demands for expansion of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but also against people of color in general through the prison system.

But in the age of globalization, the old deal between white workers and bosses appears to be undergoing a transformation. The US maintains white supremacy as the core of the elite's strategy for holding onto power, as proven by the constant and ever-growing power and wealth of the white elite, as well as its incarceration and policing strategies towards people of color. But, at the same time, the elites seem to be betting that, in the emerging world of truly global capital, local alliances may not require the same sheer numbers of American middle class white people to stand as a bulwark between them and the poor here at home. It is likely that coercive and surveillance technology will fill the hole absented by the downsizing of the American middle class, while a statistically smaller global middle class will form the basis for the new global order abroad.

The implications of this remain to be seen, but some hint of it is playing out in the Republican Party right now, over the issue of immigration reform. According to an article on Bloomberg.com,
The Republican split on immigration pits business interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which want a guest-worker program to fill jobs in restaurants, hotels or farm fields against Republicans in Congress such as Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, who opposes any program to increase immigration and says the U.S. isn't enforcing laws on the books.
Along the same lines, the Washington Times reported:
"It [immigration reform] would cause a break in the party that would be extremely unhealthy for the party," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. "I can tell you right now, the feelings are deep. This is not a superficial argument with the president.
Those liberals and leftists who have always written off the Republican Party as the party of the rich have failed to recognize the white class alliance that makes that party possible. To a fair extent, the argument also serves to obscure the pro-capitalist policies of the Democratic Party, which itself functions as a weapon of last resort against the poor of all colors (though people of color suffer most), often using its somewhat better credibility with labor, the poor and people of color to push reactionary programs for the capitalists that the Right dares not attempt.

But the longer white working class revolutionaries fail to recognize the white supremacist political consciousness of the white working class as a class consciousness in a white supremacist society rather than mere reactionism (or inconsistency), the more likely that it will pursue reactionary class politics. When anti-racist white anarchists fail to engage the rest of the white working class politically, we leave the door open not only to reactionary manipulations by elites and white supremacists, but also the inherent racism of white working class politics.

White anarchists have an obligation to provide solidarity to people of color and their struggles, but we also have an obligation to explain the reasons for that solidarity to the white working class as a whole. It is incumbent upon us to explain the centrality of white supremacy in American society and the fundamental necessity of challenging it as a project of class revolution in the United States. When the elites can no longer count on white supremacy to pervert the class consciousness of the white working class, revolution will finally be in the air.

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