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Saturday, September 30, 2006

JT Ready: Minuteman, failed politician and fraud

I'll try to write more about this later when I have time tomorrow, but it was too good not to post the links to right now. Our old nemesis, former Mesa city council candidate, Rusty Childress sidekick and racist Minuteman, JT Ready has been booted from the position of Master of Ceremonies for the Mesa Veterans Day parade by the organizing committee now that his military background came out.

A September 28th Tribune article reveals:
But the Tribune, in checking with the U.S. Marine Corps, found Ready had been charged and convicted in a military court of theft, unauthorized absence, failure to follow orders and, later, assault, among other things. He received a bad conduct discharge in 1996.

But Ready never told the veterans’ organizations of his record. And he never disclosed those details of his military background during his political campaigns.

The record is severe enough to prevent 33-year-old Ready from ever taking advantage of the GI Bill, being buried in a national cemetery or even joining the local Marine Corps League.

Ready also could risk losing his membership with the VFW Auxiliary, where he’s been a member for roughly two years.
The article goes into more detail about the nature of Ready's record, which includes,
In 1996, Ready, then a lance corporal and rifleman with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was tried at a special courtmartial where he was found guilty of unauthorized absence, failure to follow an order or regulation, and larceny and wrongful appropriation, according to 1st Lt. Rob Dolan, a Marine Corps. spokesman in Quantico, Va.

Dolan said Ready was absent without authorization for eight days.

He served three months in confinement, forfeited $581 per month in pay for three months and was demoted to private.

Later that year, he was brought up on even more serious charges — conspiracy, assault and wrongful solicitation and advice.

He was found guilty at a general court-martial, served six months in confinement and received a bad conduct discharge.
JT Ready told me personally that he served in Gulf War I. Doing the math, and given his early discharge in 1996, this certainly seems less than certain.

Needless to say, the organizers booted Ready from his featured role in the parade:
Ready, who ran for City Council this year without revealing details of his military service, infuriated veterans who didn't want a disgraced ex-military man to be prominent in their parade. Some challenged his right to even call himself a Marine.

Others were angered by a photo published in the Tribune on Thursday that showed him wearing captain's bars on a uniform.

"At this point, his credibility is gone," said VFW commander Randy Foshee. "He might be a good worker and a good helper, but that's all he is."
Bye bye JT.
(Thanks Aaron for the tip)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The diseases of slavery and white citizenship

In one of the more interesting scenes in the smart alternate history mock-umentary, Confederate States of America, we watch a tv advertisement recruiting less than stellar white students into the exciting and expanding field of veterinary medicine - the care and treatment of chattel slaves. CSA explores a "what-if" history in which the South won the Civil War and slavery flourished throughout the entire country. Even the most undeserving white, we learn, can enjoy as a birthright of citizenship a position superior to every Black.

The 'diseases' of slavery

Once enrolled, the commercial promises, students will learn to treat the many disorders and dysfunctions peculiar to slaves, such as 'drapetomania'.
"Drapetomania" was a psychiatric diagnosis proposed in 1851 by Louisiana physician Samuel A. Cartwright to explain the tendency of black slaves to flee captivity. As some slave owners felt they were improving the lives of their slaves, they could not understand the slaves' desire to escape.

As such, Drapetomania is an important historical example of scientific racism. The term derives from the Greek δραπετης (drapetes, "a runaway [slave]") + μανια (mania, "madness, frenzy").

The diagnosis appeared in a paper published in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, where Dr. Cartwright argued that the tendency of slaves to run away from their captors was in fact a treatable medical disorder. His feeling was that with "proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented." Cartwright proposed whipping as the most effective treatment of this disorder. Amputation of the toes was also prescribed [1].

Cartwright also described another disorder, Dysaethesia Aethiopica, to explain the apparent lack of motivation exhibited by many slaves, which he also claimed could be cured by whipping.
Imagine that! The slavemaster's doctor recommends a good whipping as a cure to the slave's problems. It kind of reminds me of that scene in the new Jackass movie where they visit the leecher in India. Got a problem? Guess what the leecher recommends? That's right - leeches! And if the leech attaches to the skin and starts sucking blood then that's proof there was a problem in the first place. What else could it be, after all?

But, in this case it's much more sinister. Having deluded themselves into believing the lie of the mutually beneficial slave/slavemaster relationship and failing to understand the way in which they benefited from the exploitation of others, the slavemaster and most whites in general at the time could come up with no explanation other than a mental disorder for the peculiar tendency of slaves to flee slavery. Since the slave's natural condition was slavery, the argument went, only a mentally ill slave would seek to escape to a freedom to which she was unsuited.

The obvious fact that one didn't see many folks of any color (especially whites) fleeing into slavery seems to have provoked little controversy, though it does undermine the basic notion of insanity as a cause for the slave's rejection of his condition. The insanity defense, such as it was, was not limited to slaves, of course. We know that abolitionists, such as John Brown (as I have discussed recently) were similarly labeled 'insane' for their anti-slavery views by the system's defenders.

'Excited Delirium': Today's Drapetomania

And so it is today. While whites today demonstrate the same aversion to going to prison that they once did to becoming slaves, they nevertheless cling to all kinds of bizarre notions to explain the over-representation of Blacks and other people of color in the country's overflowing prisons. Are minorities more inclined towards crime? Is it that they are merely poorer and therefore more likely to commit crime? Is it the parents' fault? Any excuse to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the system today remains rooted in the exploitation of people of color and that being white means avoiding prison just as being non-white means being targeted by the prison system.

Which brings us to a very interesting AP article forwarded to me by a comrade of mine Monday. Entitled, Delirium - or police brutality?, the article explores the increasing tendency of police forces across the country to explain away their murders with medical diagnoses of the victims.
Police found 23-year-old Jose Romero in his underwear, screaming gibberish and waving a large kitchen knife from his neighbor's porch.

Romero kept approaching with the knife, so officers shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun. Then he stopped breathing. His family blames police brutality for the death, but the Dallas County medical examiner attributed it to a disputed condition known as "excited delirium."

Excited delirium is defined as a condition in which the heart races wildly - often because of drug use or mental illness - and finally gives out.

Medical examiners nationwide are increasingly citing the condition when suspects die in police custody. But some doctors say the rare syndrome is being overdiagnosed, and some civil rights groups question whether it exists at all.

"For psychiatrists, this is a rare condition that occurs once in a blue moon," said Warren Spitz, a former chief medical examiner in Michigan. "Now suddenly you are seeing it all the time among medical examiners. And always, police and police restraint are involved."

Excited delirium came to doctors' attention in the 1980s as cocaine use soared, said Vincent DiMaio, chief medical examiner in Bexar County, Texas, and a proponent of the diagnosis. No reliable national figures exist on how many suspects die from excited delirium because county medical examiners make the ruling, and some use different terminology.

In Dallas, at least three in-custody deaths in the past five months have been linked to excited delirium. This prompted the police department to start offering mental health assessment training they say will stem the sudden deaths.

Other police departments, including San Diego, have done the same to try to prevent community protests and costly lawsuits. In Phoenix, a jury awarded $9 million in April to the parents of a suspect whose death was attributed to excited delirium.
But, is 'excited delirium' even real? There are serious doubts, especially about what's really behind the desire to classify away police brutality as the fault of the victim.
"By explaining deaths with excited delirium, it takes the focus away from where it should be," said Dawn Edwards, director of PoliceWatch at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Calif. "What it comes down to is the policemen, at the time of the death, were using excessive force."
Yet again we see a system denying the fundamental relationship between white supremacy, oppression and resistance. Unwilling to indict itself, the search for an explanation, leads it to concoct a 21st Century equivalent to drapetomania in order to explain away its treatment of people of color, which amounts to 'they must be crazy,' essentially. After all, what else could explain the way that citizens of color could be so differently treated by the system's defenders?

'Citizen' as a codeword for 'white'

But this shouldn't surprise us. While it has changed form in some significant ways, white supremacy remains at the center of the controlling logic of American society. White and non-white remains the fundamental division in this country affecting everything - even class.

We see this in the Minuteman obsession with citizenship as a criteria for rights and participation in this country. 'Citizen' serves as a codeword for white. A good example of this is the movement to require specific ID to vote. To the Minuteman, it is of no concern that such demands tend to exclude people of color, just as felony exclusions do now and poll taxes and literacy tests did back in Jim Crow days. But Minutemen can dodge the fact that such measures consolidate further power in the hands of white voters because their stated goal is to target non-citizens, not Blacks and other people of color generally. But, their intent is to prevent non-citizens from voting, and when we realize that citizenship operates a code for white, we can see the continuity in the position with past policies.

So, in Southern Arizona, Minuteman congressional candidate Randy Graf launched a new ad aimed at his rival:
A female speaker responds: "Think again. Giffords is a liberal extremist who supports Spanish ballots, amnesty and even citizenship for illegals."

The ad also contends that she supports welfare, food stamps, health care and Social Security benefits for illegal entrants.
That Graf wants to repeal the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to children born within US territory, offers further evidence of this continuity in policy. That's the amendment that gave citizenship to slaves after the Civil War.

While Minutemen will occasionally trot out a person of color to support them, it's painfully clear that their idea of solidarity work with 'citizen' people of color organizations goes 'one way.' We never see the Minutemen defending the rights of citizens of color whose rights have been violated by the police, for instance. Or affirmative action policies for historically discriminated against minorities.

And so we have the case of Tony Dolz, an Assemblyman-wannabe from Malibu, California. Apparently not a fan of irony, the Malibu Times reports that
Dolz is a founding member of the Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal immigration group based in Orange County that sends members to patrol the U.S. Southern border. He is also a legal immigrant, having arriving in this country as a child with his parents from Cuba in the 1960s. Since shortly after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, all Cubans have been allowed to legally enter the United States and become citizens without going through the immigration process of those arriving from all other nations [my emphasis].
Nevertheless, Dolz endorses tight restrictions on access to resources based on citizenship.
Dolz said on Tuesday that he does not support forcibly removing illegal immigrants from the United States, but he would like them to voluntarily leave once incentives for them to stay have been eliminated.

"If they cannot get a job, rent a home, get a drivers' license; if they cannot get anything but service at a hospital here, they will gradually go back to whatever country they came from," Dolz said.
Yet, the end result of such logic remains hard to deny when we look at it critically. A recent article in the LA Times reports that
Two day laborers were injured Sunday when they were hit by a car whose driver and passenger shouted racial epithets as they raced through a Laguna Canyon hiring site, Laguna Beach police said.

The driver, Artem Soloviev, and his passenger, Dennis Katpilniy, both of Laguna Niguel, had gone to the site about 9 a.m., saying they wished to hire someone for a digging project at Soloviev's house, said Sgt. George Ramos.

But when one worker declined the terms of the proffered job, Soloviev, 23, and Katpilniy, 18, started arguing and fighting with the man and another laborer, police said.

The pair returned soon afterward and allegedly drove through the hiring site at a high speed, hitting two workers and damaging several tables and a fence, Ramos said.

Workers were forced to jump out of the path of the car as it circled a parking area, witnesses told police.
Minuteman leader, Jim Gilchrist, condemned the attack, but it further illustrates the racist ideology underpinning the Minuteman Project's logic. Likewise with the cases of Patrick Haab and JT Ready in Arizona, both of whom proved their trigger-happy tendency to view brown skin as a synonym for non-citizen and therefore criminal. After all, as their mantra goes, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" The Minuteman movement is a movement for white rights, but it has adopted the familiar language of citizenship to camouflage its arguments, which generally center around good jobs being lost to foreigners either overseas or at home. Of course, those 'good jobs' generally excluded citizen people of color to begin with.

Beyond the 'unite and fight' logic

Still, while the division within the working class along race lines is easy to see when we look, most whites still cling to the notion that class trumps race in the end. That, whatever the case with the working class, at least when they are middle class or rich, people of color are at least as well off as whites. Wealth is the great equalizer - just look at OJ Simpson, they might say (perhaps with some resentment). A Black boss is still a boss, goes the logic. Any worker knows that there is a certain truth to that. Or a varient: if they system is inherently racist, what do we make of the Black cop, then?

However, since citizenship is defined along race lines in this country, as it has since its founding, certain contradictions and limitations emerge when we apply this pure class analysis further. If, as many anarchists contend, it were simply a matter of class, what explains the fact that to a police officer a white man in an Escalade is a rich man, but a Black man in an Escalade is a thief or a thug? Is that a stolen car? That Black boss may be able to fire you or cut your pay, regardless of your race, but on the street he remains under suspicion thanks to the system of white supremacy, which class mobility is not sufficient to the task of escaping.

Illegal at the Ivy League

So, consider now the case at Ivy League Brown University. Earlier this month, a Black student alleged that university police attacked him after he refused their demand to present ID while heading onto campus late at night. Students organized protests, where they complained that they felt that they were considered criminals even on their own campus.
Theresa McGowan '08 was among those who led the group around the Main Green and Wriston Quadrangle. Outside Wayland Arch, McGowan addressed the crowd and referred to Street's allegations. "He was assaulted on this campus. … He was attacked from behind. … He cried for help," she said to the group of protestors and onlookers.

McGowan then touched on the issue of race as she addressed the marchers, who were mostly students of color.

"We don't want no racism on Brown's campus, we don't want no police stopping us because they think we can't go to Brown. … Brown is brown," McGowan said.

"This doesn't end today. This is ongoing until we get change," she said.

The marchers then returned to the Main Green, where McGowan again addressed the crowd, saying: "They claim they don't know what a Brown student looks like - lets show them what a Brown student looks like."

Other marchers were blunter about their reasons for attending. I'm here to "stop the f*cking police brutality," said Kai Morrison '07. She said police brutality is happening all over the country, even on the campus of a supposedly liberal institution like Brown.

After McGowan spoke, the marchers took to the streets chanting "Brown is brown." They walked to DPS Headquarters at 75 Charlesfield St. and the PPD's Brook Street substation.
Even at an Ivy League school, generally well-off Black students remain suspects in the eyes of police. Despite their status as citizens, the burden of proof lies with them, just as it did under slavery. A traditional class analysis does not explain this.

Putting the struggle against white supremacy in the center

Revolutionaries in the United States need to recognize the fundamental nature of white supremacy in the American system. The division in the working class along race lines was created by the rich in law and is enforced through a combination of official sanction, selective privilege and reactionary white working class defense of privilege, among other things.

In the end this division reinforces capitalism and strengthens the hand of the capitalists - even if it is working class whites that defend it through their own self-organization, as in the case of the Minutemen. Further, this combination puts the white working class very often in a reactionary position in relation to the rest of the working class, and this is the reason why a revolutionary strategy in this country must put attacking white supremacy at the top of its battle plan.

It is also the reason why common front strategies that deprioritize critiquing and attacking white supremacy for shared enemies like the boss, capitalism or the state tend to replicate white dominance and white interests. Too often issues of race are treated as divisive or impediments to revolutionary change. In truth, putting the fight against white supremacy at the center of our revolutionary strategy lays the groundwork for the kind of unity that revolution requires.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Orleans: Bread and Circuses for the People

My good friend and comrade Collin Sick has written a very good piece on the aftermath of Katrina, football, the re-opening of the Superdome and the spectacle. Please check it out here (and let's encourage him to write more):

New Orleans: Bread and Circuses for the people

Monday, September 18, 2006

News of Interest for 9/18/06

Big Brother is shouting at you
"Big Brother is not only watching you - now he's barking orders too. Britain's first 'talking' CCTV cameras have arrived, publicly berating bad behaviour and shaming offenders into acting more responsibly."
Skid Row surveillance camera network to be unveiled
"If you're passing through L-A's skid row area, smile. You may be on camera. A 200-thousand dollar network of police surveillance cameras will be unveiled today in the downtown district."
Camera aimed at curbing crime
'I think it's a great idea. I'd like to have cameras in all of downtown,” said Lewis S. Pacheco, owner of Pacheco's Jewelry & Gifts at 20 Taunton Green. “I don't think it's an invasion of privacy. I think a downtown camera is a deterrent to criminals. If someone knows they are being watched or thinks they are being watched, they are less likely to commit a crime,” he said. “We have to do something to clean up the area. We can't afford more police, so if we can use technology to our advantage, why not use it?” Pacheco said.'
Business and Islam: Allies Against Anarchy in Somalia
'This January, the moneylords decided enough was enough. When a group of clan-based warlords attacked El Maan port, north of Mogadishu, business leaders teamed up with Islamic forces who had been present for years, though mostly in the background as social service organizations. “The business community gave us their money and their lives,” said the Islamic Courts information minister, Abdulrahim Ali Modei. That alliance led to the defeat in June of the warlords, who had lost much popular support because of their banditry.'
Police used high-tech surveillance at festival
'The company estimated that they were able to cover 85 percent of the festival grounds with about a half dozen hidden cameras. One camera, for example, was mounted atop a light tower and used on “Shakedown Street,” a bustling area viewed as a problem spot for drug dealing.'
Dar university students go on strike
"University of Dar es Salam (Main Campus) engaged anti-riot police in running battles when they were protesting delayed disbursement of their education loans by the Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB)."
India parades all-women UN peacekeeper force for Liberia
'"Our women going there will send two messages -- first, that women in India are on par with men, and inspire women ... wherever they go," said J.K. Sinha, director of India's 230,000-member CRPF, the world's largest paramilitary unit.'
Wal-Mart Expands RFID To 500 More Stores
'"We believe this technology, when coupled with new work processes, will deliver even more benefits than we are currently receiving," Ford said. "We are actively engaged in designing some new initiatives that will accelerate our program even further and, in so doing, create even more value for everyone involved."'
Police Chief Responds to Claims of Brutality
"Witnesses told WECT that police tased Casey Davis, Evan Pileri and Jarred Callahan. They said that police beat Davis until he was unconscious. Photographs taken by witness Kyle West showed blood in his house left from Davis' head."
US Imprisons 14,000 Detainees
"In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law."
The first bionic woman
'Today, the Washington Post reports that a new life is within reach for the first woman with bionic arm (free registration required). Claudia Mitchell lost an arm in a motorcycle accident, but she's now using a 'bionic' arm that she can control with her thoughts. This bionic arm was designed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with funds from DARPA. And in a separate article, the Associated Press adds that this artificial arm could provide hope for soldier amputees, such as "the 411 U.S. troops in Iraq and 37 in Afghanistan who have had wounds that cost them at least one limb." It would also help many civilians. But read more...'
Americans More Likely to be Shot by Law Enforcement than Killed by Terrorists
"With that in mind, here’s a handy ranking of the various dangers confronting America, based on the number of mortalities in each category throughout the 11-year period spanning 1995 through 2005 (extrapolated from best available data)."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The fanatic and democracy

Earlier this week, Joel Olson, assistant professor of Political Science at Northern Arizona University, spoke at ASU on the topic of “Abolitionist Fanatic Rhetoric and the Letters of Wendell Phillips.” Joel used to live in Phoenix, where he organized and participated in Phoenix Copwatch and Bring the Ruckus (now a national revolutionary organization). I had many occasions to meet, speak and organize with him over the years, and he proved himself to be an intelligent, principled and honest organizer and critic in that time.

Probably the first local anarchist publication I ever read was the broadsheet BTR put out, which I used to pick up at a record store I worked at in the mid-90's. In the last year I read his book, The Abolition of White Democracy, which I recommend highly. Joel and I do not always see eye to eye on issues, but it was Joel who introduced me to New Abolitionist/race traitor politics, which has had profound influence on me.

I wasn't able to make the talk because I had to work, but I listened to the audio today and would like to recommend it to readers of this blog. In it, Joel uses the example of the abolitionist movement - in particular the Garrisonian wing - and the writings of the great orator and committed abolitionist Wendell Phillips to explore conceptions of fanaticism and the role of the fanatic in democratic struggle.

The question Joel seems to have been investigating lately is the orientation that revolutionary movements ought to take towards moderate or liberal elements. These elements often frame themselves against supposedly irrational radical - or fanatical - movements at the same time that they immerse themselves in the liberal democratic myth of the responsible middle ground, in which disagreeing sides can dialogue and come to compromises. American democracy treats the middle ground as hallowed ground. In this 'pragmatic' democratic tradition, fanaticism is treated as irrational or unrealistic, and fanatics are denounced by so-called reasonable moderates in the name of justice and democracy.

But, what surprised Joel as he did his research was not the propensity of moderates in the abolitionist movement to denounce 'fanatics', but rather the tendency of radicals to embrace the 'fanatic' label. He notes that "when the moderate anti-slavery crowd called them [the Garrisonians] 'fanatics' they didn't shrink from that label but instead they embraced it."

Continuing, Joel sums up his thesis this way,
"[a]n interpretation of Phillips demonstrates that fanaticism, which I will define as 'the mobilization of collectivities according to a friends/enemies dichotomy by non-state actors who are willing to sacrifice themselves or others in such a mobilization...' I argue that when we understand fanaticism in this way, we see that it's not inherently undemocratic. That what zealotry really is is a critique and a rejection of political moderation - not a rejection of reason, of rationality or anything like that. And, as such, fanaticism and reason can be consistent. And furthermore, it can be consistent with justice and democracy in times when moderation lends support to the enemies of democracy... so at certain points in history perhaps fanaticism is the more democratic option over liberal moderation."
This seems like a fair conclusion, and one that those of us who study history and have organized in broader movements will understand. While it can be useful at times, the moderate middle is also the engine of co-optation and recuperation, so how should committed revolutionaries - or fanatics, to use Joel's term - relate to this malleable center? One possibility is to treat it as a potential ally and therefore to moderate our own actions and rhetoric. But another way of looking at it is to view the moderate middle as an impediment to revolution. In that case, perhaps the proper course is not to take a moderate angle, but rather to stick to extremist positions, putting pressure on the middle, thus polarizing the debate and forcing recuperationist moderate elements to choose sides. This was the strategy of the Garrisonian abolitionists.

In an odd coincidence, I have been finishing up Dan Berger's excellent book on the Weather Underground, Outlaws of America. I was reminded while listening to Joel's talk of a section of that book dealing with the rise of the SLA and Weather's response to it. After the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the press - after years of denouncing Weather as dangerous extremists - suddenly found in them a moderate alternative to the violence of the SLA. Berger writes:
That hurt. As the [Weather] communique said, "It is a new experience for us to be described as a moderate alternative in the Hearst press. This has never happened before. New Left 'moderation' is invented now as another racist weapon against Black revolution." In response, Weather urged activists not "to do the enemy's work" by "asserting their own moderation and legitimacy" in contrast to the SLA. Instead, Weather wished for the safety of both Patty Hearst and the SLA. Its wish was not fulfilled.
Even while Weather had disagreements with SLA, particularly over the murder of Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster (killed in 1973 for proposing a school ID system), they admitted that SLA's actions had "carried forward the basic public questions and starkly dramatized what many have come to understand through their own experience: It will be necessary to organize and to destroy this racist and cruel system."

We see here Weather advocating for fanaticism - for sticking to legitimately extremist politics as a way to move forward - and for avoiding the tendency to moderate one's politics in response to criticism from movement liberals or enemies. Berger continues, later in the book, discussing Weather's affinity for another militant labeled crazy by the moderates of his day, John Brown.
Besides providing a historical backing for the WUO's militant anti-racism, Brown's image was also perfect for the WUO as a counter to the pathologizing process that deems white anti-racism "crazy" and "guilt-ridden." Coming of age amidst Black ghetto rebellions and open repression of the Black freedom movement (whether nonviolent civil rights marches or Black Power militants), the Weather Underground identified with Brown's staunch anti-racism. The risk of being branded crazy by the war-makers, the racists - even by liberals - was worth it if it meant the WUO was standing up for humanity and on the right side of history. Perhaps one of Brown's contemporaries put it best, saying that all people "who are ready to die for their principles have been charged in their day and age as impractical and unbalanced. It is the explanation mediocrity offers for greatness."

The WUO itself, in a brief mention of Brown in Prairie Fire, called him an "example to us of dedication, belief in the people's power to affect history and the willingness to risk everything in the cause of liberation.
For Weather, the middle is not a territory to capture, it is a territory to destroy. The middle was, in Joel's terms, siding with anti-democratic forces. So, therefore, moderation was a capitulation and a betrayal of the core values of a movement for justice. Moderation was not a virtue in the face of such tyranny and horror.

In an age in which fanaticism at home and abroad is universally decried by the liberal elite, Joel asks, "The question that Phillips raises, I believe, is whether fanaticism is always anti-democratic. And, the corollary is, is political moderation always consistent with democracy and justice. What is the relationship, in other words, between fanaticism and democracy in America." This is a question worth considering for anarchists, especially since the recent history of the movements we have participated in has involved so much compromise, accommodation of liberal elements and avoidance of polarization. The lesson of the Garrisonians seems to be that there is a time and place for polarization and, yes, fanaticism.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Audio that inspired me on the road

1. Ashanti Alston via A Radio Project
First of all, I should say that I spend a lot of time in a van because of my job. To fill up my time, I download a lot of audio and music and listen to it on the road. Thank ye gods for the A Radio Project, amongst others, for keeping me sane these last few years of doing delivery work. I recommend it to bored workers everywhere.

And it was on A Radio's site that I ran into a great talk by former Black Panther turned anarchist Ashanti Alston. Recorded in 2004, Alston's comments cover his experience in the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, his time in prison and his political work since getting out. His thoughts on anarchy are pertinent and insightful and I recommend this audio highly. I'm not entirely sure, but I think I saw him speak in Denver at the 2002 anti-Columbus Day events. Wherever it was, it was equally interesting then. The link below is for part 1. Part 2 is an engaging q & a with the audience.

Listen to Ashanti Alston's talk (Quicktime).

2. NPR covers the hi-tech LAPD
So, aside from downloading talks and music, and since radio sucks in Phoenix, when not listening to mp3's I spend some time listening to NPR. That's about the only thing (barely) worth listening to on the radio, with the exception of La Voz Del Inmigrantes, which runs on 740 AM each morning. We do have a liberal Air America station here, but it's pretty ideological, so it's hardly ever worth checking out. NPR generally disappoints, but at least it's middle of the road. Anarchists know better than to consider that unbiased, though.

Anyhow, I happened to be listening to what should be the ironically named All Things Considered today for a bit, and I heard a piece by reporter Robert Siegel about the new hi-tech LAPD. It's an interesting piece for a couple reasons. First, it discussed some of the new tech devices they are deploying - in the Rampart division, of course. It shouldn't surprise us that the cops plan to test this stuff out on people of color.

The technology in question includes license plate readers and biometrics, all deployed on patrol cars. Siegal seems quite interested in that. But the report is also interesting for the questions that he doesn't ask. Siegal apparently couldn't really think of much in the way of serious critical questions to ask about the tech, which says so much about the ideological nature of technology.

It kind of reminded me of the time Ira Flatow did a feature on the future of the airplane and listed all the potential uses of current research in the area. After listing off a bunch of great things that we can all certainly hope to benefit from equally in all respects (sorry for the sarcasm), he ended, almost as an afterthought, with the exclamation, "Who knows, it might even have military applications!" Really? You think so, Ira? The military is only the biggest investor in airplane technology. They might have some plans for it. That's what you call an ideological disconnect with reality. And that happens a lot with technology.

But to be fair, Siegal does make the obligatory reference to "big brother." And he does ask if cops plan to include folks who don't pay tickets or register their cars in the searchable database of the networked car-scanning technology, which implies - though it does not state clearly - the potential hazards of this technology. Of course, we know they do, since the cops have done that with other databases before. Plus, cops consider such traffic stops vital to their ability to wage war on the poor and prosecute their paranoid war on terror.

But, since the ideological view of technology that dominates treats all downsides as aberrations, afterthoughts or curiosities, Siegal fails to follow up when the officer replies with the ominous, "We're not pursuing that angle at this time." This is the LAPD! And the Rampart Division at that! Why no follow up on a question about potential abuse of power? That's because tech, even when it's potential negatives are obvious, remains wedded ideologically to the idea of progress. Because of that, Siegal cannot see, even as he flirts with it, that technology is all about power. And all about the people in power.

At one point, the officer points out that with enough of the car-mounted cameras, cops could potentially track back criminals movements throughout the day.

"The options are endless," he says at one point. Indeed.

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sheriff Joe a hypocrite? Say it ain't so!

In what can only be viewed as a clear victory against Maricopa County's megalomaniacal and power-mad Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the US Supreme Court today refused to hear an appeal of a 9th District Court ruling that Joe cannot broadcast live video of inmates being booked at county jail. The lawsuit was brought by the prison reform group Middle Ground.

According to the Arizona Republic today:
Maricopa County inmates have won a settlement with Sheriff Joe Arpaio over his live Internet broadcasts that showed prisoners being booked, photographed and, in some cases, using a toilet at the county jail.

The Sheriff's Office agreed Monday to pay the legal fees for the inmates, plus $500 in damages to each of the 11 who remain in the case that was filed five years ago in U.S. District Court. Arpaio also agreed to accept the court order blocking the so-called jailcam.
An estimated 8000 prisoners a month passed through the system and Middle Ground had initially sought $50,000 for each of the more than 50,000 inmates that had appeared on Joe's sick jail reality show, an astounding figure which would have probably bankrupted our local petty tyrant once and for all, had it succeeded - despite his sponge-like tendency to suck up large fines in the past. The recent removal of the county jails infamously murderous restraint chairs shows that even Sheriff Joe has limits to his ability to force the county to absorb the costs of his brutality (the latest of a string of successful lawsuits related to the restraint chairs cost Maricopa County $9 million in March).

Joe had argued that the jail cams were a deterrent to future crime, but the court rejected that self-serving argument from Arizona's most self-promoting police officer, noting that the inmates filmed in booking had not been convicted of any crime, thus making the deterrent argument pretty empty.

Still undeterred and in denial of reality, Joe says that since the injunction doesn't forbid him from webcasting the images of convicted inmates he is "going to look into" shifting the cameras to covering convicted prisoners serving time. The last time Joe had the cameras up, porn and white power websites linked to the feeds.

In a side note, the lawyers will get ten times more in fees than the inmates will get in damages.

In other news, demonstrating one of his many hypocrisies, our beloved Sheriff Joe today denied any knowledge of a deal that exempts his deputies from citations for speeding in the section of the 101 in the North Valley now patrolled by speed cameras. In an earlier irony, Joe had come out against the installation of the cameras last Spring. In what now looks like a curious reversal, Joe argued at the time that
“The traditional law enforcement method to enforce the law and protect the public dictates personal contact by the officer,” Arpaio wrote.

“In my 40–plus years of law enforcement, the use of probable cause to make a stop and to further investigate circumstances involved in an arrest or violation has been and still is the most effective way to investigate and further promote safety.”
In what seemed like a strange libertarian moment in a decidedly authoritarian career, Joe even argued that the plan to install the cameras was just a money-making scheme on the part of the already wealthy city of Scottsdale.

However, the East Valley Tribune reported today that,
...Scottsdale police officials said they made a deal to ignore potential speeding tickets from sheriff’s office and DPS vehicles. Though police are legally allowed to speed in certain situations, the deal allowed officers who may not have been justified in speeding to escape citations or reprimands.

The July article included 16 pictures of emergency vehicles — five from the sheriff’s office and seven from DPS — caught going between 100 mph and 117 mph. Five did not appear to have their emergency lights on. The sheriff’s office and DPS have not replied to a request made in June for documentation of the officers’ actions around the time of the photos.
After the Tribune reported the exemption, Scottsdale resumed sending out notices to offending agencies. However, in the preceding months, the Tribune reports that
One thing is clear: Scottsdale did not send most, if not all, of the notices generated by speeding DPS and sheriff’s office vehicles. In addition to the 16 vehicles caught going 100 mph or more, the system also caught 177 other emergency vehicles from Jan. 22 to the end of June traveling between 76 mph and 99 mph.
In a bizarre twist, Arpaio denied all reports of a deal, saying, “The issue is credibility . . . there was no deal made with Scottsdale or with anyone else. They’re never going to come up with any proof we made a deal.” Joe's sudden interest in the burden of proof (which didn't concern him in the case of the jail cameras) is amusing to say the least, but Scottsdale cops beg to differ:
Last week, Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell and department spokesman Sgt. Mark Clark repeated that as far as they’re concerned, DPS and sheriff ’s office personnel were knowledgeable about the deal. But they couldn’t provide any evidence that connected the agencies to the decision to ignore citation notices.

“The whole process was a series of meetings and at some point it was a conversation where the sheriff’s office came into the picture,” Clark said in an interview last week. “There were communications that went on at the meetings. Obviously, some of these were informal meetings, some of them were phone calls. So I don’t know if there are records available.”
Further, it was revealed that Redflex, the company that operated the speeding cameras for Scottsdale, does not record the license plates of speeding emergency vehicles, as it does for regular citizens.
Jake Jacobsen, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said if the officers photographed were going 20 mph or more over the speed limit, that constitutes criminal speeding.

Jacobsen said he wouldn’t say what Scottsdale did was “bad,” because “I don’t have a horse in this race.”

However, if Scottsdale assumed all law enforcement vehicles were justified to speed on Loop 101, “that’s quite a leap of faith.”
Apparently, that's just the kind of hypocritical leap of faith that Sheriff Joe is willing to take - with his officers, but not with his inmates.

News of Interest for 9/12/06

US life expectancy: the eight Americas
'There were dramatic differences in life expectancies: in 2001, urban black male babies could expect to live for just 68.7 years, whereas for Asian females the figure was 86.7. Such differences across the “eight Americas” have not narrowed over the past two decades (see graphic).'
'The most sinister thing about the conspiracists is how they abet the consolidation of the very police state they claim to oppose. Arguing that Bush and his spies should have been omniscient enough to stop the attacks, they decry how the attacks are being used to expand the government's powers—blissfully unaware of how they give their own adversaries propaganda on a silver platter. With their implicit demands for an omniscient government, they (presumably unwittingly) play into the hands of those who seek a perfectly "secure" world in which privacy and personal liberty have been perfectly eliminated.'
Mission Impossible
"As often on such missions, the inevitable happened. In their pursuit of fleeing combatants, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion made mistakes. In the most horrible case, they shot a young girl. The screaming mother charged at the troops, wild with grief, brandishing the severed leg of her daughter. The girl bled to death before the soldiers' eyes. Such incidents created new enemies for the occupation forces."
US intel report: Iraq's Anbar province 'politically lost'
"In a report that some have said is the most negative yet filed by a senior military officer in Iraq, the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps in Iraq concluded that the possibilities of the US and Iraqi governments securing the troubled western Iraqi province of Anbar are remote."
"Last week, Dupont, the chemical giant, slashed employee pension benefits by two-thirds. Furthermore, new Dupont workers won’t get a guaranteed pension at all — and no health care after retirement. It’s part of Dupont’s new “Die Young” program, I hear. Dupont is not in financial straits. Rather, the slash attack on its workers’ pensions was aimed at adding a crucial three cents a share to company earnings, from $3.11 per share to $3.14."
Iran closes down 2 opposition newspapers
"It was a fresh show of determination by Iran's ruling clerical establishment to silence dissent over its handling of nuclear talks with the West and deny reformers a chance to air their views ahead of elections scheduled for Dec. 15."
Hezbollah: 90 percent of arsenal intact
'Regarding the size of Hezbollah's arsenal, Qassem said that "early in the war, we declared that we had the capability to resist the Israeli army for months, and perhaps that is a clue to the amount of weapons we have available. I will not go into figures because that is a military secret, but it is possible that we still hold 90 percent of our weapons in our depots."'
Al-Zawahri urges Iraq's Kurds to rise up
'“I appeal to my brothers in Islam, the Kurds, to renounce these calls which support America and Israel, and to write an honourable page in the contemporary history of Islam,” al Zawahri said in footage that appeared to be new.'
Chinese township riots over teacher’s death
'The protests reflect widespread perceptions that China’s legal system is tainted by communist officials’ abuse of power and susceptible to influence by the country’s newly moneyed classes.'
How hi-tech Hezbollah called the shots
"Hezbollah's ability to repel the Israel Defense Forces during the recent conflict was largely due to its use of intelligence techniques gleaned from allies Iran and Syria that allowed it to monitor encoded Israeli communications relating to battlefield actions, according to Israeli officials, whose claims have been independently corroborated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "
Clash fears for Mexico celebrations
"PRESIDENT Vicente Fox is determined to lead Mexico's independence celebrations on Friday, setting up a possible clash with leftist political foes who have taken over the capital's main square."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Webster Tarpley on false flag terrorism

Happy 9/11! Below is a great talk by Webster Tarpley, who is in my opinion the best of the 9/11 "conspiracy" theorists. The bonus that Tarpley brings to the 9/11 conversation, and which is sorely lacking much of the time in those circles, is a historical context and an analysis of the mechanism through which modern false flag terrorism manifests - military drills, intelligence services and private militaries. Tarpley does deal with all elements of the 9/11 conspiracy story, but I would recommend him specifically for this more tactical analysis of how such terrorism is carried out these days.

Looking at it this way, one doesn't really even have to form an opinion on the entire 9/11 conspiracy - such as bombs in the towers, cruise missile at the Pentagon, etc - but we can, with Tarpley's help, get a good look into the machinations of a very corrupt elite class that is willing to do almost anything to keep power for itself.

Some would say that anarchists spending any time at all doubting the official story of that day's events is a dangerous distraction from the business of class war and attacking the system as a whole. This is a false dichotomy, since 9/11 cannot be removed from the system in which it occured. There is no contradiction between critiquing the 9/11 story and the system that produced it any more than there is a contradiction between criticizing the war and the larger system as well. Further, while perhaps exceptional as a spectacle, a student of history would be hard pressed to make a case that such a conspiracy, were it to exist, would be in contradiction to the over all nature of the system.

Regardless, as many 9/11 conspiracists point out, 9/11 has become - almost overnight in historical terms - the dominant myth of our time. It's hard to think of a policy or transformation these days that does not hinge on it or at least receive ideological backing by 9/11 arguments. No matter what happened that day, the idea of 9/11 has become central to almost all politics today as framed by the elite in the United States.

As anarchists, our analysis of the system goes beyond competing elites, coups and secret goverments - even if we do not deny that such things exist. And it certainly goes beyond either bumbling or scheming presidents and vice presidents. However, it is only anarchists who bring the deeper critique and vision necessary for this debate to take on revolutionary possibilities.

As some point out, there is certainly a danger of the 9/11 Truth Movement leading to liberalism - or even right libertarianism - but this is not an inevitability. Further, this danger exists in all social movements, including the anti-war movement which shares a lot of common ground with the 9/11 Truth Movement. 9/11 Truth is no special case. In fact, many in the 9/11 conspiracy set see the issue as one that transends left-right dichotomies. As anarchists, we should be skeptical of political arguments that claim to transcend and yet don't really get to the black heart of this murderous system.

This is what anarchists joining the debate on 9/11 can provide. We can say, yes, the elite class is a selfish, greedy, blood-thirsty and power mad group. As history has shown, they are clearly capable of planning and carrying out terrible acts of violence and destruction against people across the world, as well as here at home. But we can point out that, while there are rivalries for power within the elite, this cabal transcends politics because it is in reality a capitalist and bureaucratic class with many shared interests, including the everyday exploitation of most of the planet. As long as governments and the capitalist system that define their interests continue to exist, we can only expect more of the same - and worse. Whatever rivalries exist within it (and there are many), the elite class as a whole is at war with the world, and we anarchists are in a position to point out why and how.

We can say that events like 9/11 - and the hope of no longer suffering their effects - are, in part, why we are anarchist revolutionaries in the first place. There is no contradiction in that.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

News of Interest for 9/11/06

Mao and me
"Secondly, I would say I never found him a loveable person personally. There were people around him such as Zhou Enlai [future Chinese premier] who were extremely outgoing. With Mao, there was something always cold and aloof about him."
Software automates China justice
"New software is handing down criminal sentences automatically in one Chinese province, raising the question whether judges might some day lose their jobs to modern technology."
27 are hanged at Abu Ghraib in first mass execution since Saddam's fall
"Mass executions at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, which has several gallows erected in the execution chamber, were suspended after coalition-led troops overthrew Saddam three years ago. The death penalty was reinstituted in 2004, and yesterday's executions took place just days after control of Abu Ghraib was handed over to the Iraqi authorities."
US expands visitor fingerprinting to deter attacks
'"We will be able to run everybody's fingerprints against latent fingerprints that we are collecting all over the world in terrorist safe houses, off of bomb fragments that terrorists build, or in battlefields where terrorists wage war," Chertoff said in a speech at Georgetown University.'
62,006 - the number killed in the 'war on terror'
"The "war on terror" - and by terrorists - has directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth."
U.S. count of Baghdad deaths excludes car bombs, mortar attacks
"U.S. officials, seeking a way to measure the results of a program aimed at decreasing violence in Baghdad, aren't counting scores of dead killed in car bombings and mortar attacks as victims of the country's sectarian violence."
Bin Laden trail goes ‘stone cold’
"The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world — no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image — has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials."
Hezbollah lies just below the surface in south Lebanon as peacekeepers move in
"The Nazzals said Israeli tanks had reached their land — some 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the border — during the fighting, and that the area was now littered with land mines and cluster bombs that made it too dangerous to collect more wood."
Designer babies - what would you do for a 'healthy' baby?
"he well-educated are significantly more open to the idea of "designing" babies than the poorly educated, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of East Anglia."
US accused of covert operations in Somalia
"Dramatic evidence that America is involved in illegal mercenary operations in east Africa has emerged in a string of confidential emails seen by The Observer. The leaked communications between US private military companies suggest the CIA had knowledge of the plans to run covert military operations inside Somalia - against UN rulings - and they hint at involvement of British security firms."
Thousands of troops say they won’t fight
"Magaoay said his disillusionment with the military began in boot camp in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where a superior officer joked about killing and mistreating Iraqis. When his unit was deployed to Iraq in March, Magaoay and his wife drove to Canada, joining a small group of deserters who are trying to win permission from the Canadian government to stay."
Scholar hits out at ‘greedy landlords’
'"Municipal officials should protect society from greedy traders," he said. "Such people will be judged before Almighty God on the Judgement Day."'
For U.S. Workers, Vacation Is Vanishing
"Indeed vacation time has been slowly disappearing for American workers ever since the Reagan revolution, which ushered in a violent shift in corporate culture away from the paternalistic post-New Deal model towards the current stock-price-is-God model. According to Harvard economist Juliet Schor, in the 30 years before Reagan's presidency American workers were getting more and more vacation time; however, in the 1980s, that trend suddenly reversed. By the time Reagan left office, Americans got three-and-a-half fewer days off per year, on average."
Foot-washing sparks atonement debate
"The thorny issue of white atonement for apartheid has been thrown under the South African spotlight after a white former hardline minister washed the feet of a black preacher his forces once tried to kill."
Gaza medics encounter “unexplained injuries”
'But recently, medics in Gaza revealed disturbing facts. They say they’re encountering what they call “unexplained injuries” among the dead and wounded in the Israeli offensive which lasted for about nine weeks, according to UK’s The Independent.'

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Prop 405 denied ballot status

The man featured to the left is JT Ready, local Minuteman flunky and sidekick/working-class-beard for local silver spoon anti-immigration activist Rusty Childress (who I have written about before on this blog). Despite that huggy-bear big grin on his face, Ready is likely not very happy today because Friday the racist Proposition 405 was denied ballot status by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janet Barton. The Arizona Republic reports,
The proposal would require police officers to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and enforce federal immigration laws. It would also require Phoenix to enter an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security and "designate officers" to act as federal immigration agents.

The measure ended up in court after a coalition of mostly Latino groups joined forces to stop the measure. Three Phoenix residents then filed a lawsuit on Aug. 25 alleging, in part, that a city charter provision violates state law by allowing an extra 10 days for proponents of a measure to turn in additional signatures if they come up short on their first try.

Barton agreed, and it was that decision that rendered invalid the second batch of 892 valid signatures filed in support of the measure. Randy Pullen, leading a group called Protect Our City, had fallen short 684 valid signatures when he first filed.
This ruling reaffirms the city's policy of preventing police from enforcing Federal immigration law when they encounter undocumented residents. In an extremely rare progressive move, motivated more out of concern for increased workload and fear of investigations compromised by lack of witness participation, the Phoenix police union actually came out against the proposition. Bravo.

Returning to our old rival, failed Mesa City Council candidate and apparent bad shot, JT Ready, you may notice his tasteless Confederate Flag doo-rag. This photo was taken at Monday's pro-immigrant rights rally downtown, where anarchists and Minutemen clashed briefly. Despite the obvious white power history of the Confederate flag, he went to great pains to assure the photographer that his suspicious headgear was not a racist symbol or a sign of his own racist attitudes. Whatever, JT.

JT Ready is perhaps most famous for his attempted murder of an undocumented immigrant, Efrain Martinez, who Ready claimed was attempting to car jack him. In reality, Ready had racially profiled a group of Latinos and after tailing their truck into a cul de sac, freaked out and took a shot at Martinez, a passerby.

Ready told Police that he had shot in self defense. Police arrested and held Martinez, whose story differs significantly from Ready's, for 42 days, but when they became skeptical of Ready's version he was deported with only a minor charge. Much to Ready's chagrin, Martinez was back in the country less than a week later, prompting local anarchists to sport signs reading, "We are all Efrain Martinez" at local anti-Minutemen protests forever after.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Attention, Shoppers: Police State Ahead!

Business Week has a warning for all of you who have ever pilfered a little something when the store owner wasn't looking:
There are 6 million video cameras mounted in stores across the U.S., according to market researcher J.P. Freeman Co. Their unblinking eyes are everywhere, watching exits and peering down aisles. You already knew that. But you probably had no idea how smart some of these cameras are getting.
The interesting article, ominously entitled, "Attention, Shoplifters," describes many of the new advances coming online now in surveillance technology and how they are being used to prevent theft in stores across the country. It goes without saying (although I will say it since it is so rarely actually said) that many times theft is justifiable and even necessary.

Hell, even the police do it, so it can't be all that bad, can it? Consider, for a moment, the case of Boynton Beach police officers Lt. Richard Root and Nancy Aspenleiter, who caused a stir just yesterday. From the Palm Beach Post today:
City Manager Kurt Bressner's decision to suspend, rather than fire, a city police lieutenant accused of mishandling more than $22,000 in Fraternal Order of Police money has outraged the city's police officers.

Angry e-mails began pouring in Friday after Bressner overruled Police Chief Matt Immler's recommendation that Lt. Richard Root be fired after criminal and internal affairs investigations found that he and former Boynton Beach officer Nancy Aspenleiter mismanaged the FOP lodge's finances. The accusations included keeping $10,000 in public donations meant for widows and orphans of the Sept. 11 attacks and using $10,000 meant for a motorcycle raffle winner to pay down the mortgage on the lodge.
Of course, when the police do it, they usually have a whole system of fellow officers and politicians to back them up. Thus, City Manager Bressner claimed that Officer Immler did not deserve theft charges - or to be fired - even though "he did agree with police investigators that Root committed perjury, violated fund solicitation laws, failed to keep records, failed to turn over raffle money, failed to register with the state to solicit money, made untruthful statements and demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer." In other words, he stole. So, theft happens all the time - and not just the kind that rich people make legal, like the stock market or paychecks. And people get away with it all the time, too.

And, it should also be pointed out that police treat people they accuse of theft quite differently than they expect to be treated themselves. Just a few days ago, two police officers chased down and shot a man accused of shoplifting from a Shopper's Food Warehouse in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Returning to the Business Week article, then, we are treated to quite an interesting look into the world of the private security apparatus quickly making unregulated space (which is not necessarily the same as private or public space) obsolete in our daily lives, as the number of places not actively or passively monitored by an authority of one kind or another in this country steadily shrinks towards zero.
Some Macy's (FD ), CVS (CVS ), and Babies 'R' Us stores have installed a system called the Video Investigator, whose advanced surveillance software can compare a shopper's movements between video images and recognize unusual activity. Remove 10 items from a shelf at once, for instance, or open a case that's normally kept closed and locked, and the system alerts guards sitting in a back room -- or pacing the sales floor -- with a chime or flashing screen. The system can predict where a shoplifter is likely to hide (at the ends of aisles, behind floor displays). A search function spots sudden movement that might indicate a large spill, prompting workers to clean up before it leads to a slip-and-fall accident and a costly lawsuit. And if someone opens a back door at 2 a.m., the system will record who sneaked in and link it with snapshots of the previous and next persons to use the door. Alerts, complete with images, can be sent to handheld devices, keeping retailers informed 24/7, says Jumbi Edulbehram, vice-president for strategic marketing at IntelliVid Corp., a Cambridge (Mass.) firm that makes the Video Investigator system.
As the technology gets more and more powerful and cheaper, it spreads into more and more products, becoming more and more ubiquitous.
Even the lowly shopping cart has been recruited in the war on retail crime. A surprisingly common -- and simple -- scam is the "push out," in which thieves load up carts and just dash out of the store. The solution: Gatekeeper Systems Inc. (GKR), in Irvine, Calif., invented an electric-fence technology for carts. The system, called GS2, uses radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which are embedded in cart wheels, and antennas around the periphery of the store that broadcast signals to the chips. When a cart approaches the store boundary, its wheels lock up. They can be unlocked only by an employee who activates a remote-control device. "[Thieves] can't push the cart," says Brett Osterfeld, Gatekeeper's vice-president for sales and marketing. "They'd have to pick it up and walk with it." Target Corp. (TGT ) and several smaller chains have signed on.

Those handy rungs underneath the cart are great for hauling bulky items like diapers, pet food, and beer. The problem for retailers is that shoppers often "forget" to pay for the goods. The answer? Seven grocery chains, including Pathmark Stores (PTMK ) and Giant Eagle, recently began testing LaneHawk, a system by Evolution Robotics Retail Inc. that uses visual pattern recognition to spot hidden packages. Cameras mounted in cashier stands about six inches off the ground scrutinize the bottom racks of passing carts. If an item matches an image in a database, the system computes the price of the product and adds it to the customer's bill. "It's like biometrics for packages," says Alec Hudnut, CEO of Evolution Robotics Retail.

Many criminals aren't stupid, of course, so the name of the game for surveillance experts is making their wares all but invisible. Some of the most powerful sensor systems are being embedded right under your nose. Take those beige plastic discs that retailers snap onto clothes and accessories, called electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags. Now they're being made as small, and nearly as thin, as a toothpick. DVD manufacturers stick disposable versions on product packages before shipping to retailers. J. Crew Group Inc. (JCG ) sews the devices right into clothing labels, telling shoppers to remove deactivated units before washing.

Soon stores may replace EAS tags altogether with RFID tags that offer a more precise and inconspicuous way of tracking items on a sales floor. The tags, which come in different shapes, many smaller than postage stamps, communicate with a handheld device, telling workers the exact location of a given item. Retail giants like Wal-Mart (WMT ) and Target are big advocates of RFID technology, but for now use them mostly to monitor inventory.
Retailers hope to keep an eye on you in as many ways as possible, because, while they want your money, they don't trust you.

But, it's not just the shoppers that retailers don't trust - it's also the employees. I have spent a lot of time on this blog pointing out that this technology is very clearly being directed as a class war tool at the point of production (or retail, as it were). Technologies like RFID and surveillance cameras are intended to control workers as much as shoppers - perhaps more. As we all know, perhaps the best place to steal is from work. Theft is one way a worker who is treated unfairly gets even - or one up - on a boss who, by her very nature, is extracting more in profit from each worker than she is paying out for labor in the form of wages and benefits (if you're lucky enough to get them).
No part of a store churns out more data than cash registers. This is also where employee theft is most likely to pop up. New types of transaction-monitoring software pull information from registers into a central database and look for unusual patterns. An excess of manually entered credit-card numbers could be a sign that employees are stealing customers' information. Returns of the same type of sweater 10 times in a row at one register, for instance, could indicate that an employee is processing fake returns for a friend or being conned into making fraudulent returns. Retailers decide what to track and how often, and set parameters for alerts. Often the feedback points to problems other than dishonesty. "It might be a hardware issue or a sign that an employee needs more training," says Cheryl Blake, a vice-president at Aspect Loss Prevention, which works with Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. (PLCE ) and Ross Stores Inc. (ROST ) "Whatever it is, the transactions will stick out and tip off management to investigate."

Collecting tons of information only helps, though, if you're able to sift through it and figure out what it's telling you. Already, U.S. retailers record an estimated 1,000 years of video every day, according to IntelliVid. "Rather than have someone watch and review TV for hours on end, retailers are utilizing intelligence behind the video screen," says Joe LaRocca, vice-president for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation trade group. That's why stores also are investing in technologies that can communicate with each other. RFID systems, for instance, can cue up video cameras to check out an aisle where they have detected suspicious activity, catching suspects on tape before they get out of the store. "Retailers can pull data from all these systems, look at them together and connect the dots," says Rob Garf, a research director at AMR Research.

The newest retail data-mining programs also sync up with video to permit a more comprehensive look at activity at cash registers. With the press of a button, managers can highlight irregular register transactions on their computers and pull up corresponding video. This could enable them to catch cashiers who cut deals for their friends or pocket cash refunds themselves. It could also curtail fraudulent returns by tracking the route customers take to the customer service desk -- do they head straight there or meander through the store, picking up their "return" merchandise along the way?
In addition, such technology, as with the spill-recognizing camera above, increasingly is spreading beyond merely monitoring employee behavior into actively managing and directing workers on the job. This is the case, for instance, with the new "Hyperactive Bob" fast-food management system now coming into use in some fast food establishments. Capable of monitoring the parking lot with advanced cameras, identifying the number of customers in cars and predicting the quantities and types of food to be produced based on averages and other statistics, Hyperactive Bob actually gives orders to employees. "I've been a manager for 28 years. It's the most impressive thing I've ever seen," said one McDonald's manager.

When's the last time your manager ever said something like that about anything that was good for you?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

News of Interest for 9/06/06

Vandals send anti-gentrification message
"On one house on Bauer Street, vandals wrote "You can visit anytime but you're not invited to live here." Ken Ward is outraged that vandals seem to be targeting affluent additions to his central Halifax neighbourhood."
Defense contractor CEOs‘ pay doubles
"The chief executives of corporations making big profits from the war on terror are enjoying far bigger pay increases than CEOs of nondefense companies, according to a study by two liberal groups."
Best defence against terrorism is a split with US, say voters
'Moreover, three fifths (62 per cent) agree that “in order to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks on Britain the Government should change its foreign policy, in particular by distancing itself from America, being more critical of Israel and declaring a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq”. Women (66 per cent) and Liberal Democrat voters (74 per cent) agree with this view particularly strongly.'
FBI Role in Terror Probe Questioned
"What Batiste did not know was that the bin Laden representative was really an FBI informant. The warehouse in which they were meeting had been rented and wired for sound and video by bureau agents, who were monitoring his every word."
Fake Weapons, Real Jail Time
"Now, over in the United Kingdom, three suspects were recently let go after a British court rejected claims that they broke the law when they allegedly attempted to buy something called red mercury, a nasty substance rumored to be, among other things, fuel for a dirty bomb. The best thing about red mercury, however, is it doesn't exist. And the whole plot was set up by a tabloid hoping to score an expose of terrorism."
Air America kicked out of Black Community for Gospel 24/7
'“Something sinister seems to be at work here when the two Black-owned AM radio stations in the media capital of the world can only provide the audiences that they were licensed to serve with gospel music, faith-based messages and white left-wing rhetoric and propaganda.”'
Local experts explain how gentrification may affect city
"Sometimes it's the opposite, Ms. Williams said. Gentrifiers may try to dominate a neighborhood without learning about or understanding its social dynamics or building relationships with its residents.

They may want to live in a diverse neighborhood, but want it to be one they can understand and not be frightened by. To that end, they may try to draw people who are similar to themselves to the area.

People often believe that only homeowners can care about their community, but many renters care about their neighborhood just as much, Ms. Williams said."
Invention: Long-range stunner
"Three inventors in the US have now devised a long range stun gun which delivers a shock of 40 kilovolts, over a distance of about 150 metres, even if the dart hits with a low impact."
More 'intersex fish' found in Potomac
"Some species of male fish in the Potomac River and its tributaries are developing female sexual traits at a frequency higher than scientists have seen before, raising concerns about pollutants in a waterway that provides drinking water for millions of people."
Monsanto Whistleblower Says Genetically Engineered Crops May Cause Disease
"GM cotton has provided ample reports of unpredicted side-effects. In April 2006, more than 70 Indian shepherds reported that 25% of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on Bt cotton plants.[2] Hundreds of Indian agricultural laborers reported allergic reactions from Bt cotton. Some cotton harvesters have been hospitalized and many laborers in cotton gin factories take antihistamines each day before work.[3]"
Gay Couple Has Public Sex, Crowd Applauds
"People who gathered around the couple reacted quite positively, took photographs, applauded and recorded them on video. Nobody bothered to call the police or protest."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

News of Interest for 9/05/06

Rally opposes Tasers
"Since 2005, 13 people have died while in custody of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office -- two white men and 11 black men, Movement for Change members said."
Are Physicists Smart? Disciplined Professionals serve Power
"I’m a physicist and I’ve trained physicists and I’d like to advance a different view: That generally, physicists, as a group, are pretty stupid, and certainly no smarter than any other group of self-centered and self-serving professionals."
Iraq's inflation rate hits 70%: minister
"Fuel and electricity prices saw the highest increase, standing at 374 percent higher this July from the same month last year, Baban said. The transport and communications sector saw a 218 percent rise, while goods and services prices increased by 37.3 percent."
"Did You Hear the One About Hitler?"
"A new book about humor under the Nazis gives some interesting insights into life in the Third Reich and breaks yet another taboo in Germany's treatment of its history. Jokes told during the era, says the author, provided the populace with a pressure release."
Ramadan work hours apply to ‘all employees’
"ALL companies operating in Qatar have to comply with the law stipulating that working hours during Ramadan should not exceed six hours a day, Labour Department assistant director Faisal al-Emadi said yesterday."
Gathafi wants to hand oil wealth to poor people
'In a blistering indictment of the state of Libyan society and its economy, [Gathafi's son] Seif had said: "Let's stop kidding ourselves that we are living in a paradise, one in which public sector officials act as though they own the companies they manage. The beneficiaries of this chaos are a group of state employees and big wigs united in an unholy alliance resembling a mafia."'
Still Called by Faith To the Phone Booth
"Built by several nearby Mennonite families, the oil tank-turned-phone booth connects them to the rest of the world -- sort of. And sort of -- when it comes to the estimated 1,600 Old Order Mennonite and Amish residents who still ride horse-drawn buggies down the roads of St. Mary's County -- is the point."
Tech advances raise privacy fears
"A relatively unknown branch of the CIA is investing millions of taxpayer dollars in technology startup companies that could map the future of spying. Some of their products can pry into Americans' personal lives, not just for the government but for big business as well."
Robotic Frisbees of Death
"It ain't easy, picking out evil-doers in the urban canyons of the Middle East; there are so many places to hide. Taking 'em out can be even harder, what with all those noncombatants hanging nearby. But the Air Force thinks it might have an answer to this most vexing problem in counter-insurgency: frisbees."
Don't be fooled by this reform: the IMF is still the rich world's viceroy
"Like most concessions made by dictatorial regimes, the reforms seem designed not to catalyse further change, but to prevent it. By slightly increasing the shares (and therefore the voting powers) of China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey, the regime hopes to buy off the most powerful rebel warlords, while keeping the mob at bay. It has even thrown a few coppers from the balcony, for the great unwashed to scuffle over. But no one - except the leaders of the rich nations and the leader writers of just about every newspaper in the rich world - could regard this as an adequate response to its problems."
FBI Shows Off Counterterrorism Database
"Grigg said that before 2002, it would take 32,222 hours to run 1,000 names and birth dates across 50 databases. Now agents can make such a search in 30 minutes or less, he said."
Brick computes boons, costs of going "Wi-Fi"
"Picture this: Police learn of a fight in one of the township's high schools. With a few clicks of a mouse, they are watching the situation unfold inside the school. A student is home sick but doesn't want to miss his lesson. Relying on a classroom webcam, he watches the teacher's lecture from bed and completes the homework for class the next day."

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