.dropdown { font-family: arial; font-size: 120%; color: #000000; width:130px; margin: 5px 0 0px 0px; background-color: #ffffff; } List NINE
Open links in secondary window

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Harold Hurtt Prize: The changing nature of power

The thing is, Harold Hurtt used to be the Chief of Police in Phoenix before he got hired in Houston. Aside from overseeing many police shootings, Hurtt blazed a trail now being replicated across the country. Hurtt greatly expanded the Phoenix Police Department's use of Tasers, which are manufactured locally. The idea was sold to locals as protecting the lives of both officers and citizens:
"The Phoenix Police Department has tested the M26 for over a year and has found it significantly reduced injuries to both officers and suspects," said Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt. "This is a tool that will save lives, increase officer safety and improve the safety of the general public."
Between 1980 and 2000 Valley cops killed more than 150 people. Between 1996 and 2000, "Phoenix police killed an average of 3.33 people per 1,000 officers, making them more than 2 1/2 times as likely to use deadly force than officers in bigger cities like Los Angeles and New York." Hurtt's policy shift was largely heralded as a major success.
The stun guns have been credited with reducing police shootings in cities across the country. In Phoenix, the number of police shootings dropped to its lowest point in 13 years after Tasers were issued to all patrol officers in 2003.

"(Taser) is the most humane weapon, the most humane tool we have," Phoenix Sgt. Randy Force says. "It would probably be my first weapon of choice."
However, perhaps to the ironically named Force's chagrin, the Tasers proved quite deadly, despite the claims of the police department and the manufacturer. Then, after initially dropping, police shootings rose the next year.

But that wasn't really the point. Though they are hyped as non- or less-than lethal, what Tasers really accomplish is the expansion of situational police power. According to an Amnesty International report on the technology,
[C]laims that tasers have led to a fall in police shootings need to be put into perspective, given that shootings constitute only a small percentage of all police use of force. In contrast, taser usage has increased dramatically, becoming the most prevalent force option in some departments. While police shootings in Phoenix fell from 28 to 13 in 2003, tasers were used that year in 354 use-of-force incidents, far more than would be needed to avoid a resort to lethal force.

Use of non-lethal weapons may be only one factor leading to a fall in police shootings and other serious force. In Miami, for example, the fall in officer-involved shootings may be due in part to greater oversight following several high profile prosecutions of Miami police officers for civil rights violations involving wrongful shootings and an ongoing federal Justice Department investigation into an alleged pattern of excessive force.(29)
In fact, the Phoenix Police and other police agencies have faced several lawsuits over the last few years for inappropriate use of force, including the shooting of a half-blind, mentally ill Latino man in May 2001 that resulted in an award of $1 million.

Again, according to AI,
Amnesty International is concerned that, despite the experience in Virginia and the Justice Department’s findings in Maricopa County [in which Phoenix is situated], use of electro-shock weapons as a routine force tool appears to be on the increase as thousands of officers – in jails and on the streets – are issued with new, advanced tasers. The organization believes that this may similarly increase the potential for abuse of such weapons.


Data from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida showed that, by May 2002 – just over a year after they were first deployed – tasers had become the most prevalent force option for the department, constituting 68% of all use-of-force incidents (see chart, below). Taser use reportedly rose to 77.6% of all force incidents in 2003.(104)

However, the data also reveals that, while police use of chemical sprays, police dogs, physical force and firearms dropped by about 21% in the year after tasers were introduced, the overall number of times force was used by Orange County deputies actually increased by 37%.(105) A brochure on Taser International’s website reports a staggering 72% increase in use of force by Orange County deputies from 1999 to 2002, in line with increased taser use.(106) Similarly, in May 2004, a local news agency reported that the use of force against suspects in the city of Orlando, Florida, had "nearly doubled in the last 14 months since Tasers were issued to police", although they arrested fewer suspects.(107) According to the same source, while police injuries in Orlando decreased significantly, injuries to suspects stayed the same.
It turns out that police utilize the Tasers the way they utilize the other weapons in their arsenal, and adding one more weapon only increases the number of situations in which they can act successfully to project state, capitalist or other power. It may seem counterintuitive, but limiting the options for violent action by the police to either the gun or short range engagement (pepper spray, billy club, etc., where the officer may risk physical harm to herself) may actually serve to check police applications of force. The police are a domestic occupying army. We wouldn't expect that giving new weapons to an army would decrease their use or the power of the military, would we?

Returning to Hurtt, after leaving Phoenix, he headed for Houston, where he set about replicating the policies he utilized in Phoenix. Houston soon will have twice as many police armed with TASERs as any city in the country. Meanwhile, in nearby Austin, following a similar policy path, police TASER use climbs as the technology spreads.

But, Hurtt has gone one step further. A true pioneer in the development of the techno-democratic police state, he has called for the placement of surveillance cameras throughout the city, including apartment complexes and private homes.

Again, just as with the expansion of Tasers, the spread of surveillance cameras represents a major increase in the power of the police. Citing a shortage of police as his justification,
Houston Police Department Chief Harold Hurtt said it could take as many as two years to get his department fully staffed.

Hurtt said there are currently 2.2 officers for every 1,000 citizens. The nationwide average is 2.8 officers.

In the meantime, officers working overtime are filling the gaps and Hurtt said the department is looking at other ways to make officers more efficient.

Hurtt said officers might be spending too much time responding to burglary alarms at homes and businesses that turn out to be false.
According to a February 15th article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the argument goes like this:
Houston's police chief on Wednesday proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers.

"I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?" Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.
According to the Houston Chronicle,
Mayor Bill White, who must approve the camera program for it to go into effect, said he had not yet discussed it with Hurtt.

"There's a legitimate right to privacy," White said. "On the other hand ... if there are some crime hot spots, then we want something where we don't have to have uniformed officers staring at a particular spot 24 hours a day."


To supplement officers on patrol, HPD is considering installing five video cameras downtown, Hurtt said. He also suggested that new apartment complexes and malls be required, as part of the building-permit process, to provide security cameras.


The downtown-camera project already has a group to fund it: the Houston Downtown Management District. Once the cameras are installed, the project would be carried out by HPD. Officers would monitor video feeds from a new storefront office planned for downtown.

"It's going to be a lot less expensive than having officers standing in those locations or responding to all those calls," said Hurtt, who wants to have the cameras up by the end of this year. "What we need is a combination of technology and human resources to deal with this issue."

The Downtown Management District, which works to improve the central business district using taxes paid by downtown property owners, has proposed five sites for cameras at intersections on and around Main. They are high-pedestrian-traffic, not high-crime, locations, said Bob Eury, executive director of the district.
Hurtt understands the dynamics of policing and technology in the 21st century: technology, whether Tasers or surveillance cameras, will vastly increase the capacity of the elite, through the police, to project their power onto society - and onto the working class and poor in particular. In a sense, this is the traditional role of the police, which were created precisely for this purpose. But, the near future will see increases in police and elite power the likes of which we have never seen, largely thanks to visionary cops like Hurtt.

So, it was with great pleasure that I greeted the debut of THE HURTT PRIZE. In one of the great ideas of recent times, one concerned citizen has turned Hurtt's love for surveillance back on him,
The Hurtt Prize is a $1300 (and growing) reward for the first person who can provide definitive videotaped evidence of Houston police chief Harold Hurtt committing a crime, any crime. This evidence will posted here and forward to the Houston Police Department along with a demand that action be taken.

I am putting up $1000 of my own money for this prize, but if you think this is a good idea, and wish to pledge some of your own money for the potential winner of the Hurtt Prize, send an email to bounty@HurttPrize.org with your Name and Location (city and state).
What a wonderful idea.

The website makes a great point about the emerging high-tech surveillance society developing before our eyes. The spread of surveillance in corporate, personal and government hands will not only abolish privacy as we know it, but it will invest in the hands of the authorities the capacity to vastly increase their sheer ability to track, record and therefore prosecute all kinds of crimes that current resource limitations effectively limit.

As a tool for class oppression, prisons have served elites well. Particularly for people of color, the prison system serves today both as a punishment tool and a method of social control - a means for the elite to keep the always potentially revolutionary working class under its thumb. Further, in the case of African Americans, the prison system functions as the primary weapon in the elite's genocidal project to eliminate or drastically marginalize Black folk, who the rich and powerful correctly consider the most revolutionary amongst the poor and working class.

The new social control heralds a new era, one in which the hand of the elite is vastly strengthened, and in which our autonomy is drastically reduced. Time is running out for revolutionaries to realize exactly what the rich have in mind for the new society. Recognizing the essential role that technology will play must come sooner rather than later. Focusing only on the increasing state or corporate power, as so many radicals do, risks missing the way that power is increasingly amassed and projected in high tech societies.

It's worth remembering that, although he was forced to turn down the nomination, last year Bush proposed former New York Police Comissioner Bernard Kerik for Director of Homeland Security. Not coincidentally, Kerik was a TASER board member.

We must take a stand against technology now, before it's too late. The class war depends on it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are We Happy Yet?

According to the recent Pew Research Center study on happiness:
The correlation between happiness and family income is very strong indeed - reported happiness rises in a nearly straight line through eight levels of annual family income. At the highest income category -- $150,000 and above - fully 50% of respondents report being very happy; by contrast, just 23% of those who have a family income below $20,000 say they are very happy.
According to the Washington Post:
In the District [of Colombia], the richest families had incomes 12 times higher than the poorest ones early this decade, compared with seven times higher in the troubled economy of the early 1980s. The major reason for the widening gap: The highest incomes are growing more sharply than the lowest ones. Incomes at the top fifth rose 81 percent during those two decades, to an average of $157,700. Those at the bottom went up 3 percent, to an average of $12,700.
According to the Pew Research Center study:
Blacks (28%) are somewhat less likely than whites (36%) or Hispanics (34%) to report being very happy.
According to the Associated Press:
The Justice Department will not file civil rights charges against a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man, which led to the city's worst race riots in decades.
Immediately after the shooting, [Officer] Roach told officers at the scene that "It just went off," Kim noted. But when interviewed by investigators, Roach said he believed that Thomas reached into his waistband and pulled out an object he feared might be a weapon.

Later, Roach said he had not actually seen a weapon, but fired when Thomas suddenly jerked his hands from his waist.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
St. Louis police should further restrict pursuits, activists suggested Tuesday after a fleeing van killed a [Black] minister on the way to church the night before. But Police Chief Joe Mokwa insisted that officers have to draw the line when someone threatens officers with a gun.

"We cannot allow criminals to take over our streets," the chief said. "I won't tolerate it."
"Was the capture worth the lives of innocent citizens?" asked Harold Crumpton, head of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. "I think not."
Also According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A Belleville man wrote me asking that I encourage "black groups" to hold press conferences against senseless violence. He went on to say that 90 percent of the listeners who called KMOX (1120 AM) Tuesday morning agreed with host Charlie Brennan's suggestion that the state authorize police beatings after car chases.

"It's true," Brennan said, responding to my e-mail. "I said it should be the responsibility, not just the right, of police to beat the living daylights out of drivers who lead them on high-speed chases."
Several readers wrote me to say that Monday's crash should have changed my views. I saw the tragic story on the TV news that night. But I saw other disturbing reports as well. Like the story of the Scott Air Force Base airman who prosecutors said shook his 18-day-old infant to death. Another report told of a St. Charles woman, 26, who police suspect had sex with several men without telling them she had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Then there was the story of the mayor from a small Missouri town facing drug charges for methamphetamine possession.

Where are the livid calls for legalized shootings of whites who've killed babies or HIV-infected women who sleep with multiple men? Are all whites to blame for the rise of meth? Should radio hosts and columnists push for pre-emptive laws that mandate the shooting and beating of certain white criminals?
According to the Pew Research Center study:
The pattern in happiness by work status is a bit more complicated. Retirees (36%) and workers (35%) are equally likely to report being very happy, and both are happier than those who are not employed (26% very happy).
According to the Kansas City Star:
“Our perception is that the workforce is pent up with waiting for rewards for ‘doing more with less’ for years,” Winer said. “We’re waiting for that to bubble over. We know that employees are open to job shifting.”

Unfortunately, Winer said, CEOs often tend to devalue employee engagement surveys.

“Oh, they want to get paid more. Imagine that,” he mimicked some managers’ responses. “But it’s important that they see the proven tie between employee engagement and financial results…Engagement drives results.”

To help win employee engagement, Winer said, doubting Thomases in the managerial ranks need to: take interest in employee well-being; provide training and development opportunities; improve front-line management; differentiate and reward top performers; and communicate, communicate, communicate.
According to the Winston County Journal:
Twenty-seven counties reported unemployment rates equal to or lower than the state's rate, with DeSoto posting the lowest unemployment rate at 4.6 percent, marking the only county in the state to post a figure lower than 5 percent. Rankin and Lamar counties followed with a rate of 5 percent.

Fourteen of Mississippi's 82 counties reported double-digit unemployment figures, with Jefferson County posting the highest at 14.7 percent. Noxubee County posted the second-highest at 13.1 percent.
According to FXStreet.com:
"Tight labour markets could lead the Central Bank to push interest rates up further in an effort to ensure the economy does not ‘overshoot’ its potential and generate inflation," indicated Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman in testimony to Congress on Wednesday.
And, according to Reuters:
Moderate wage gains suggest that the U.S. labor market is not as tight as it appears, and there are risks of lower inflation as well as higher inflation, a senior Federal Reserve official said in an interview on Tuesday.

Although the U.S. labor market may be nearing full employment, moderate wage gains and solid productivity growth suggest inflation pressures are not rising, said Jeff Fuhrer, director of economic research at the Boston Fed.

"We are probably close to full employment ... but there is some risk we are a little shy of full employment.

"If you look at the evolution of wages, prices and productivity all taken together, you'd have to think those were not signifying a tight labor market," Fuhrer told Reuters.
Who's happy?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Feeling good about the future is mandatory.

Before I get started, please open the following link in another window:
By now, you have probably noticed the most prominent feature on the site, the square black ad in the middle of the page, declaring the unsettling news that "EVERY FIVE MINUTES A CHILD GOES MISSING..."(note the suggestive use of ellipses). After the text ominously fades, an anothropomorphized cell phone runs out to the middle of the screen on his/her little legs and declares, reassuringly, "Here I am." A city map is superimposed and we can see clearly exactly where the phone is located. What a relief!

Worried about where your or someone else's cell phone is? Thanks to TraceAMobile.com, for the affordable price of one British Pound a month, you, too, can access a whole host of tracking services.
Thanks to revolutionary mobile phone tracking technology you can now track any mobile phone on any of the UK's four major network operators. Using no additional hardware our mobile phone tracking service is ideal for families, friends or even businesses who have staff working outdoors. You can even track your own mobile phone [why?! - emphasis mine]! It's also ideal for people who enjoy outdoor activities, like hiking or rock climbing so if you got into difficulties and were unable to use your phone, then friends or family could quickly locate you and advise the emergency services. And because the person has to give permission to be traced and the system is password protected, it's 100% safe!
And whom amongst us hasn't found ourselves at one time or another rock climbing, "into difficulties" and unable to use our cell phone? All joking aside, the manipulation of extreme or rare events to justify attacks on liberties is quite common these days. From the smiling faces of missing kids on milk cartons to its modern day Amber Alert equivalent, we've become accustomed to having our fears primed and then exploited by authorities of all kinds, even when the facts don't support it.

For instance, the Amber Alert System - now available on your cell phone - jolts us routinely with urgent announcements of child abductions, which seem to occur with shocking regularity. Less reported, however, is the fact that, according to the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children, of the two hundred thousand some child abductions every year in the US, 75 percent of them are by family. Of the remaining 25 percent, only around a hundred every year are by complete strangers. And of the majority, the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention own statistics "show that only 4 percent of children abducted by their parents are physically harmed." And, of course, the painful irony of being beseeched in the name of the kids by an elite class increasingly able only to express its love for children through the criminal justice system should hardly require pointing out.

Nevertheless, in her Amber Alert Awareness Day message this year (did you celebrate it?), National AMBER Alert Coordinator, Regina B. Schofield reminds us of the low standards authorities maintain when it comes to justifying the undermining of basic human liberties.
As the Attorney General has said, "There is no greater measure of our nation's compassion or our humanity as a people than how we protect, raise, and care for our children." We will continue to support the unique collaboration that makes AMBER Alert a success and bring abducted children home.
It's for the kids. According to the Department of Justice's webpage, "AMBER Alert has been very effective. AMBER Alert programs have helped save the lives of over 200 children nationwide." Of course, "helped save" seems quite subjective to me, and if the larger kidnapping statistics already cited apply, we can safely assume that most of those children were not in harm's way. Nevertheless, in case we don't buy that logic, the government is quick to follow up with an even harder to substantiate figure.
AMBER Alerts serve as deterrents to those who would prey upon our children. AMBER Alert cases have shown that some perpetrators release the abducted child after hearing the AMBER Alert on the radio or seeing it on television.
How does one quantify how many kidnappings AMBER alerts deter? It's hard to say, but ironically, this may be the most important and true claim made about the system. Surveillance does deter and modify behavior, and that's exactly what so many authorities are counting on to keep things in place during the massive technology-driven reorganization of society which they intend to expand massively over the next decade or more.

This elite intervention into our lives is already taking shape. Returning to TraceAMobile.com for a moment, although they are obviously pushing for self-surveillance through broad consumer participation, the customer they are courting most aggressively is business. Their sister site, MobileLocators.com, offers the service to business, which has both the interest and the power to make implement it.
Whether you run a fleet of vehicles operating in time and service critical industries or have traveling tradesmen / sales staff, or employ workers in construction or agriculture, mobile phone location technology is the simple, easy to use, alternative to investing in expensive GPS satellite location systems. If your business is mobile then you need mobile phone tracking!
Clicking on the "business benefits" section of the site reveals a list of advantages that bosses can expect to receive by subscribing to the service.
# Improved efficiency
If your staff are on call (e.g. tradesmen or mini cab firms) you can decide who is the nearest to respond to the next job/call thus saving time on travel delays and mileage costs etc.

# Reliable delivery time information
Road hauliers or delivery firms can instantly track their delivery force to see if they are taking the quickest routes and to more accurately advise customers of anticipated delivery times/delays based on actual locations. Customers are certainly likely to respond better when given precise information, rather than a vague "he's on his way" or "the driver left an hour ago!"

# Staff monitoring
A business employing a team of sales reps working fixed hours, or covering a set area, may want mobile tracking for their staff to see if they are working the correct hours and visiting all the specified locations /appointments.

# Improved workforce data
Data can be analyzed to see how much time is spent traveling, how long employees spend on a job, or with a client and even when and how long they stop for lunch.

# Increased staff motivation
Clearly the most obvious benefit is that staff will be more highly motivated knowing that their movements can now be monitored even away from the office. So even when you are not checking up on them - they won't know this - so will still be motivated to maximize productivity.

# Employee safety
Putting mobile phone tracking on your business phones means you are giving your staff a sense of security in case they get into difficulties and are unable to call for help.
Of course, the most hilarious benefit is "Increased staff motivation". The workplace, already a police state that would make Kim Jong-il proud, promises to fall even further under the increasingly sophisticated and despotic control of the boss thanks to technology like this.

According to Matthew Jones, writing for Reuters last week,
In the past few years, companies that offer tracking services have seen an explosion in interest from businesses keen to take advantage of technological developments in the name of operational efficiency.

The gains, say the converted, are many, ranging from knowing whether workers have been "held up" in the pub rather than in a traffic jam, to being able to quickly locate staff and reroute them if necessary.
But don't worry, they can't do it without your consent. Responding to privacy concerns,
Kevin Brown, operations director of tracking firm Followus, said there was nothing covert about tracking, thanks to strict regulations.

"An employee has to consent to having their mobile tracked. A company can't request to track a phone without the user knowing," he told Reuters.
Of course, in the dictatorship that is work under capitalism, just when is any employee's decision freely taken? Backed up by capitalism, private property, the violent authority of the state and the threat of unemployment, bosses routinely coerce all sorts of behavior out of employees.

But don't worry, just like the Amber Alerts, these intrusions into the lives of workers are for our own best interest. The boss just wants to make sure we're safe.
As well as wanting to make sure staff are working when and where they are supposed to, many firms say they are increasingly concerned about employee safety.

"Some businesses want to keep an eye on their staff. Some feel they have an obligation to know where staff are in case of emergencies," said Brown.


Andrew Overton at Verilocation said many of his company's 60,000 subscribers, mostly small businesses, wanted to know where their workers were for security reasons and for better asset management.

"There is increasing awareness about the importance of knowing where your staff are in case of incidents like the July London bombings. Knowing where your nearest employee is to a customer is also important. It allows a company to improve efficiency."
Here we have the confluence of several major tendencies in social control. The patriarchal employer concerned with his employees welfare (though probably not offering a living wage, health care or pensions), threats of terrorism (that rarely manifest) and the constant push for increasing efficiency (the benefits of which never accrue to workers, at whose expense they are made) converge into one mass, resulting in an overwhelming argument for increased surveillance, regulation and control of workers and other potential threats to the capitalist system. So is it any surprise that in the face of this assault, workers and civil liberties defenders themselves have often parroted the arguments of the ruling class?

Whatever the reasons, however, it's clear that critics don't understand the whole picture, and thus the encroachments on our autonomy remain largely unobstructed.
Civil rights group Liberty said there could be privacy and human rights issues surrounding the use of tracking particularly given the unequal relationship between employee and employer.

"There could well be worries that staff feel coerced into agreeing to be monitored. The technology is neutral, it's the way it is used that is the problem," said Liberty's Jen Corlew.

She said the development of tracking was worrying because it was being driven by the marketplace and not by workers' rights.

"We are already seeing an ebbing away of employee rights and we at Liberty will be keeping a close eye on this area to see if companies who do monitor their staff are complying with the regulations," she said.
Sure, Corlew is right on about the unequal relationship between employer and employee. But, she has not questioned the underlying assumptions of the capitalist class about technology. She reasserts their claim that technology is neutral, and that it's only the application that's problem. Unfortunately, where is the evidence for this claim? The irony about her claim in this context is that this tracking system depends not on some strange misguided application of cell phone technology, but on the basic nature of the cell phone itself. That's why employers like it so much, and they say so:
[Richard] Wilding [of Britain's Cranfield School of Management] said large-scale truckers have been using similar techniques for years, but using expensive satellite navigation equipment.

"Mobile phone tracking is far cheaper and produces similar business benefits."
Thus, Corlew's assertion is revealed as an ideological affirmation, not a statement of fact. As Marx reminded us, the ruling ideas of any era are the ideas of its ruling class.

Whoever they are, defenders of the supposed neutral nature of technology have not only to contend with its applications, but also to explain just how it is that technology - a ruling class idea - remains somehow different from the other institutions of society (like police, prisons, work, etc) created, maintained and controlled by the capitalists. Even cursory examination of the point reveals clearly that this strange exceptionalism does not exist at all. Anarchists wouldn't argue that the police force is an institution that is merely being misused, would we? As it is with police, so is it with technology. We cannot divorce the impact of a system from its history, or the intentions and interests of the class that maintains it. If they are aligned, there is a reason.

Consider the enthusiasm of New York police for the tracking opportunities cell phones afford them, in the name of safety. Indeed, we see the exceptionalism argument turned on its head here, where the limited application is used to justify the over all project precisely because such events are rare.
Henry Badillo and three friends drowned off City Island three years ago this week. It took his mother a year to listen to a recording of the call he made to 911, a call that failed to save his life.

“He was calm, in the beginning, and obviously he saw what his fate was,” says Virginia Badillo. “And at the end he said that he was going to die."

She believes he might have been saved if 911 operators had gotten his location from his cell phone. The technology existed at the time, and cell phone users here had been paying surcharges to implement it for years.


For Virginia Badillo, that means there is still more to do.

“If I know that someone is going to be saved because we have the technology to save someone, I will be at peace," she says.
The police concur, although they are concerned that the system isn't accurate enough yet.
“Roughly 89 percent of those calls are being delivered with location data,” says Dowd. “And as far as the accuracy of it, they're required to have it accurate to 95 percent within 300 meters, and they're roughly at about 85 percent in that regard.”
As we have seen with other technologies, the elite class is prepared to make any argument they can for the increasing spread of these technologies, not because they are neutral, but precisely because they represent the will of the elite and bolster their control over society.

When a Utah man who called police from his cell phone died in Provo after police dispatched to the wrong location, authorities there began debating upgrading their system for better cell phone tracking. With new technology now set to increase police spying capabilities from the previous radius limit of 990 feet to 165 feet, City Councilwoman Midge Johnson expressed satisfaction with the improved tracking. "I'm very happy with the new changes," she said. "It makes the community more safe, more comfortable, and that makes me feel good."

Somehow that doesn't make me feel good about the future.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Superbowl XXXV: A free face scan with every ticket

Remember Superbowl XXXV? Every fan entering the stadium on game day was subjected to a face recognition scan by cameras placed at the entrances. Images were compared to mugshots and the system flashed suspected matches on screens in a central police control room, where they could be compared by a human eye. Fans were not told.

Former federal prosecutor, Andrew Grosso, summed up their impact.
"Cameras make a practical difference," says Grosso, now a lawyer in private practice in Washington. "They make it practically possible to monitor things that one just never had the manpower to monitor before."
Keep in mind that Superbowl XXXV took place in February 2001 - seven months before "everything changed". Before the authorities had the excuse of terrorism to clamp down on civil liberties here, technology itself was still steadily eroding our freedoms. A pre-September 11th article in Wired Magazine noted,
As cameras become ubiquitous, as face-recognition technology becomes more accurate, and as databases of known faces grow, privacy advocates fret that everyone from direct marketers to the FBI will be able to track your movements and compile detailed dossiers on your life.
Certainly, cops and governments at all levels cheered and supported the development of these technologies, but I think the article is quite instructive.

First, note the use of the passive voice when referring to the technologies involved. "[C]ameras become ubiquitous" and "face-recognition technology becomes more accurate". No credit is given to whoever is making these technologies increasingly common, nor is blame affixed to the researchers who design them. Because technology is treated as neutral rather than as a co-conspirator reinforcing the political context from which it emerges (by its very nature), our debate, thus impoverished of political content or attribution of agency, is left merely to focus on the disembodied appearance of inevitable and natural technological progress.

Secondly, while it's true that the aggressive support of police and governments has boosted technologies like these, we should be careful not to blame the political context for the uses to which they are put. High technology is inherently authoritarian. It could not exist without the state to subsidize it. As such, its ethic is not malleable, bending to political will, as some critics of technology would have us believe. No, it's relationship to power is inherent - a logical outcome of its parentage.

So, flash forward five years to Superbowl XL in Detroit. Doing its part to boost the local economy, police utilized a homegrown technology to monitor the event in 3D, utilizing holograms and security cameras.
LifeVision3D, developed by Birmingham-based Intrepid Defense & Security Systems, uses lasers to create live-action holograms that appear to leap out of a 20-inch screen.

The three-dimensional images, visible without special goggles or glasses, make it easier to detect anything suspicious under vehicles or hidden along sidewalks and walls. The technology also provides for greater visibility in the dark than traditional infrared night vision.
But that's not the only new technology to which unsuspecting football fans were subjected.
...[S]oldiers from the Michigan National Guard are using a new "sensor fusion" system developed by Distributed Instruments in Sterling Heights to scan vehicles for hazardous materials.

The soldiers have small computers, about the size of a paperback book, that link hazardous materials sensors through a secure wireless network.

Any alerts are instantly transmitted to everyone on the network, allowing them to react immediately. In the past, users had to continually relay their status over a radio as someone in a command center manually tracked them on a map.

The high-tech system saves critical seconds and, possibly, lives.

"Now the map is automatically generated, and everybody sees the same map. It really has a huge impact on the overall operation," said Distributed Instruments President Jeffrey Ricker. "Before, when the alarm went off, they spent a lot of time just trying to orient themselves to the situation."
Plus, the hologram technology improves the detection abilities of face recognition technologies.

The system was hooked up to a vehicle, but even the company that produced it wasn't sure what DHS was going to use it for.
Super Bowl XL marks the first time a security agency has deployed the technology, which isn't scheduled for public release for months. "We will have two live cameras attached to our system on the Homeland Security vehicle," said James Fischbach, Intrepid's chief executive officer. "I'm not sure what application they will use because they are not letting us know. We showed them four."
Remember that retired federal prosecutor? Speaking five years ago, he said,"If we've reached the point where we can't go to a football game without having our photos run through a database in Washington, then we'll only have privacy when we're sitting in our living rooms."

We are in an era of a massive, technology-driven, increase in police power and a concomitant rise in the power of the capitalist class. Wireless is one of the lynchpins in this accumulation. Generally considered second only to the Virgin Mary in purity, critics are loathe to criticize wireless. The Mayor of San Francisco recently described it as "a fundamental right to have access universally to information."

And, so, with all that love fueling its growth, wireless is booming across the country - and across the world.
There are over 400 cities worldwide currently planning to deploy municipal broadband networks, and that number will double in 2006, making community broadband initiatives a very real and significant trend, according to a report from market research firm Visiongain.
In fact, the only opponents of substance to wireless are the phone and cable companies who, out of self-interest, hope to preserve their profits through limiting it's spread. However, companies like Motorola are rushing forward with municipal wireless systems, emphasizing their multi-use capacity.
Riviera Beach, Florida is one of the first MotoMesh users. Right now, it's for police use only — it was purchased with seized drug money — with the option to expand to other agencies, and to residential use, in the future. Motorola points out that, by using 4.9 GHz, communities can qualify for grants to install the system. Costs range from $100,000 to $200,000 for 30 to 160 nodes, depending on density.
And yet, as the above excerpt suggests, it's becoming increasingly clear that the future democratic control society now emerging will owe much of its success to wi-fi. You don't have to go far to see just how important it already is becoming to policing and social control.

Generally deferential to authority and believing the modern lie of technology's cornucopia, reporters rarely demand accountability from researchers developing or authorities implementing new technologies. In an article in Drexel University's student paper, the Triangle, reporter Sravanthi Dama can't seem to think of a single critical question to raise as a new police plan to "begin using a new type of wireless technology, designed specifically to 'enhance response times for campus public safety personnel.'"
The PDAs enable fellow officers to track each other on a digital map, giving them instant knowledge of their relative locations to each other and to the potential scene of a crime. According to the Inquirer, "a central dispatcher can view the same map that the officers possess, draw instructions in "whiteboard" mode, John Madden-style, and have the X's, O's and arrows show up instantly on the officers' PDA screens." The dispatcher then has the opportunity to direct specific officers to the location of a crime rather than having all units swarm to the scene after being notified.
Known as Dragon Force, the technology will increasingly sport more features, including voice recognition and
the implementation of PDAs that double as wireless phones in which Voice over Internet Protocol will be used in conjunction with Dragonfly, the University's wireless network, in order to transmit voice messages. Other features include allowing officers to use their PDAs to send text messages from the scene, and view photos of suspects and surveillance videos almost instantaneously after a crime is committed.
Mimicking (and taking advantage of) a feature common in municipal wi-fi networks, Dragon Force will be able to form spontaneous mesh networks on the fly, making them very useful for police on the go. And, reflecting the now permanent link between domestic policing and the military - both in terms of personnel and technology - Dragon Force is going to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division this year.

But it's not the only police technology going there. According to a February 2 UPI article, marines in Iraq will soon be using a Lockheed surveillance system already in use in many American police departments. Local SWAT and gang officers from Chicago and Los Angeles will train soldiers to use the system, which
will allow them to use cameras to monitor activity on the streets and observe the activities of suspicious characters.

The result will be not only real-time intelligence, but a means of learning the identities, habits and movements of people in a particular area to help troops get wind of insurgent activities or ensure the coast is clear for an approaching convoy.

"The approach will enable our troops to target specific areas, observe people behaving in ways that they disguise when they see a Marine and collect and link investigative data to identify patterns and key insurgent locations," said Lt. Col Nick Marano. "This data will be available to the tactical unit in the field, as well as command and intelligence centers."
Soldiers will build a database on locals in search of patterns and associations that might reveal insurgent connections. According to its press release, "The database is a customized version of a police investigative database developed by the Chicago Police Department for its anti-gang, counter-drug operations."
These methods and similar technology have been used with great success by the Chicago police department (PD), who developed the capabilities to investigate urban gangs. The Chicago PD is providing their expertise and lessons learned in an effort to help the Marines in Iraq.

"Our officers and detectives use I-CLEAR (Illinois Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) on a daily basis to track crime trends and check criminal backgrounds of wanted offenders," said Philip J. Cline, Superintendent of Chicago Police Department. "This technology has expanded as a model for law enforcement agencies across the country, and now, we look forward to sharing some of these same concepts with the military."

The Los Angeles PD is assisting by bringing their urban and counter- terrorism operations experience to the program, helping to coordinate how the COIN technology will be used by U.S. Marines in Iraq.

"This is another step the LAPD is taking to help our military in any way possible," said Ralph Morten, LAPD Detective Supervisor. "Our LAPD SWAT and bomb disposal units are currently working with Marines to prepare them to handle situations in Iraq that are similar to what our officers handle here."
Wireless technologies will multiply many times the regulatory effectiveness of police databases because they will increasingly be deployable in the field - at the point of contact between capitalist and state domination and individual and group resistance. When we maintain the illusion that technology is simply neutral, we miss the whole picture of how elites plan to reorganize society in the coming years.

Deleware Online reported last week on the effect cameras placed in two Wilmington "high-crime neighborhoods" have had. The city installed sixteen cameras in August. Since then, police report using them in 95 cases. This contrasts to the 326 cases that 20 downtown cameras have assisted in. But, then, perhaps the cameras downtown were intended for a different purpose. "High-crime neighborhood" is always a euphemism for poor and generally another word for people of color.

Not having been to Wilmington, but knowing what my downtown is like, it seems likely that the cameras downtown are intended for deterrent effect, while those in the poor neighborhood are meant to strengthen the ability of the cops to regulate and police the poor. That requires the actual intervention of police in the lives of poor people. Hence arrests would be a more likely outcome in that case.
"Apparently they were installed in the right locations, because they're annoying the right people," [director of security for Downtown Visions, Dean] Vietri said.
But, even if the media will brook no dissent, there is some resistance.
Three of 10 cameras on the East Side were battered with a 2-by-4 after they were installed -- just before or immediately after they were activated in August. Someone shot one of the six cameras in Hilltop, a West Side neighborhood, around the same time. Another Hilltop camera was shot two weeks ago.

The damaged cameras will be replaced soon by ones that are more lead- and lumber-resistant -- like ones now used in Baghdad and the Bronx, Vietri said. City officials are looking for money to pay for the tougher cameras, which will feature hardened steel and lenses made of bullet-proof glass, Mosley said.
So, despite the near complete consensus in favor of these technologies that exists in the public dialogue (some minor privacy concerns from the likes of the ACLU notwithstanding), not everyone is totally excited by them.

However, elites and law enforcement officials overflow with enthusiasm for these technologies. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Chicago Mayor Daley's plan to require that all businesses open more than twelve hours a day post cameras both outside and inside.
"Block clubs, community organizations want cameras. ... They can't walk down the street. ... Their kids have to go around a corner away from the gang-bangers. You can't walk to church. You can't get on the CTA. ... Cameras really prevent much crime. Cameras also solve a lot of crime. The terrorist attacks in London were solved by cameras. The whole incident was solved by cameras," Daley said.

Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper estimated that 12,000 businesses -- maybe more -- are open for more than 12 hours a day and, therefore, would be covered by the sweeping camera mandate. That includes roughly 7,000 restaurants, more than 100 hotels and scores of retail establishments.

"Are there enough cameras in production to do what they're asking us to do?" Roper said.
It's a funny question, but, sadly, the answer is yes. The shrinking size of cameras and the steadily falling cost of wireless technology has made surveillance quite affordable.
``A few years ago all this wireless stuff was pretty much reserved for government or covert agencies,'' said Stephen Barnhart, owner of Barnhart Security & Alarm in Grandview, Mo. ``Now anyone can buy a wireless, they can pop it somewhere and put it anywhere from 50 feet to 50 miles away and they've got transmission.''
Surveillance will indeed be ubiquitous soon, and it won't just be the government - or even business - doing the watching. Defenders of technology cannot chalk it up to the government or business interests. The surveillance society will be a logical outcome of the technology itself.

According to Steve Klindworth, president of Supercircuits, a leading seller of video cameras,
``Everything is getting smaller, that's just the nature of electronics,'' Klindworth said. Cameras are getting cheaper because the chips can be mass produced, he said.

Prices vary according to the quality of the camera and the range of the receiver, he said.

The growing trend is to have signals transmitted to a digital device and received over the Internet, Klindworth said. Such systems with the broadest range are available for $400 to $500, he said.
"You can be anywhere in the world and view your store or your summer home or your nursery school live over the Internet, just like you were there. It's the most powerful and empowering thing you can imagine.''

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Channeling the Ghost of Anatole France

Around a hundred years ago, Anatole France, famous French anti-authoritarian, said, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." I don't think I have ever encountered a more succinct summation of the situation of so much of humanity - and the attitudes used to justify it in capitalist societies that pay so much lip service to equality before the law.

That is, until today. The East Valley Tribune ran an article by John Leptich about the booming homeless population in Scottsdale. For those who don't know, Scottsdale is one of the Valley's richest cities. In a recent census, the number of recorded homeless in the city jumped from 69 last year to 104 this year. The number certainly underestimates the reality, but the trend is probably right.
On Wednesday, a homeless man named Jerry, who didn’t give his last name, sat on a bench in Chaparral Park. He said he moved to Scottsdale to be with relatives five years ago and lost his job in 2004. At 56 and in declining health, the former Detroit resident said Scottsdale treats him and others like him well. Jerry, a former tool-and-die maker, said he’d like to find a job but hasn’t been successful.

“As long as we don’t bother nobody, we’re OK,” Jerry said. “The cops usually leave us alone.”
Thanks to rising global temperatures, warm, dry weather in Phoenix has permitted some increased autonomy for Valley homeless, making it easier for them to sleep outside rather than submitting to the regulated, crowded and often dehumanizing shelter and social services system.

Scottsdale detective Sam Bailey echoed Jerry's sentiments. Scottsdale cops treat homeless folks like any other resident, he claimed. Of course, being treated equally isn't always the best solution to homelessness in a capitalist society, as Bailey unwittingly observed.
“It’s a violation to sleep in the park for anybody, not just the homeless,” Bailey said. “Our officers give them cards with numbers they can call for help and ask them to move on. No tickets are given out. They usually comply and find somewhere else to go.”
It's like the ghost of Anatole France channeled through a cop's mouth.

But, there's really not a housing shortage in Phoenix. In fact, yesterday a national research firm that does analysis for the industry declared the Valley to be number one in the nation for single family housing starts. Some studies disagree on the actual number, but everyone agrees that there were more than 60,000 housing starts in town last year. About the same as last year. There are some signs of slowing, but when you add in the 20,000 homes for sale right now, that's a lot of available homes. The rental vacancy rate in town is above ten percent.

And it's not a shortage of money that's keeping the homeless out of doors. Ira Fulton, CEO of Fulton Homes (older, in better health than Jerry and likewise forbidden from sleeping in public parks), donated $100 million dollars to Arizona State University last year. The housing industry, and rising home prices, is making some people very, very rich. And that's not all of it. It would be rude of me to neglect to mention that this gigantic donation of stolen money comes on top of the $58 million dollars Ira has already donated to ASU. This guy has a lot of money.
If all goes as Fulton hopes, the College of Education will be renamed the Mary Lou Fulton School of Education, after his wife, who graduated from the college.

"That's her Christmas present from me," Fulton said. "What can you buy your wife who has everything? I'm going to get her a college in her name."
Ira made a special point of singling out ASU President Michael Crow as a primary reason for the donation:
"I feel so fortunate to have that man running our university," Fulton said. "I don't give this kind of money away to people. This guy deserves it, earns it, and he'll invest it properly."

Crow described the gift as "unprecedented and magnificent."

"It's tremendous and an important recognition of their understanding that the university needs to be built by the entire community, not just the government," Crow said Friday.
Valley elites love Crow, and he does indeed stand out - not just for the increases in tuition that he has presided over, increasingly pushing college in Arizona out of the reach of working class families, but also for his drive to focus the university increasingly on high technology research. And, then there's the CIA connection. Crow headed up In-Q-Tel Inc., the Agency's venture capital arm.

But back to Ira. Fulton also gives his millions, stolen from the community through exorbitant home prices and surplus value, to the Mormon Church, where he's a major contributor as well. "I'd be crazy at 75 to be working this hard if I didn't have a cause," he said.

If I may briefly digress, housing isn't the only way to make money in Arizona. Raytheon, the biggest missile manufacturer in the world - and home town favorite - reported that it's "fourth-quarter profit rose 13 percent on higher sales of surveillance gear and defense electronics for the war in Iraq. The company also raised its 2006 profit forecast."

Mary Anne Sudol, a New York analyst said, “There was strength across the board, and Raytheon has been insatiable about expanding profit margins.” Insatiable.

Meanwhile, like the weapons industry, downtown building business is booming (pardon the pun). The influx of yuppies and wannabes, following on a wave of artist-led and ongoing city-subsidized gentrification, has brought wealthy developers to downtown. Not to provide good housing or services for the area's poor and working class residents (some of whom were homeless), but to drive them out and replace them with lofts, condos, coffee shops and high priced dinner joints.

The Arizona Republic today reported today on San Diego developer Joe Pinsonneault's plans to build a 30-storey tall, $120 million condo project downtown.
Residential developers are transforming Central Avenue from an office hub to an "urban living" haven. They are motivated by a new interest in city living, a planned light-rail line that runs along the street and by the quick profit potential of building and selling condos compared with building and owning an office project.
The more than 300 condos will sell for between $600,000 and $700,000 each.

The as yet unfinished light rail, a heavily subsidized and expensive project aimed almost exclusively at attracting yuppies downtown, has begun to succeed already. When Thomas Gorny decided to relocate his web-hosting business from Santa Monica to Phoenix, the downtown housing and future light rail counted for a lot.

"I found that a lot of developers and IT people don't like to drive," said Gorny, chief executive officer of iPowerWeb Inc.
He hasn't plumbed his employees' psyches to understand why, but he estimates 20 percent of his 120 workers carpool, take the bus or bike to work, anything to avoid the car commute.

When rail opens in late 2008, Gorny figures he'll be perfectly positioned at 919 E. Jefferson St. to use the rail as a perk for his transit-loving staff.

Light rail has appeal to economic-development officials, who are banking on the electric-powered train to transform central Phoenix.

Bo Martinez, program manager for transit-oriented development for Phoenix's Downtown Development Office, said that $600 million in private and public investment is expected along the 20-mile rail line in the next few years. That includes such big projects as the downtown campus of Arizona State University, such housing developments as the Portland Place condominiums and relatively modest office projects such as iPowerWeb.
The masturbatorily self-identified "knowledge worker" demands public subsidy - and that is exactly what she gets.

Of course, one of the reasons so many homeless people have had to move out of their old haunts is precisely because of downtown gentrification. Heavy-handed policing and the consolidation of homeless people and services away from development has provided the impetus for many people, not just the homeless, to move. Unsurprisingly, and despite the defensive protestations of the elite class to the contrary, Phoenix recently scored a spot on the "20 meanest" cities for homeless folks in the nation. Last summer, the heat and a lack of services that the indigent want to use combined to kill many of the Valley's homeless population.

Some things never change.

But, police harassment aside, Jerry finds the ramadas in Scottsdale parks great places to sleep. And, as for any apparent ironies that might arise from being homeless in one of the Valley's richest cities, he'll have none of it.

“To me, it don’t matter. It could still be Detroit,” he said. “Being a rich city don’t mean nothing. We didn’t pick to be here because of that. We don’t have money, no matter where we are.”

Powered by Blogger