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Monday, October 30, 2006

GPS and the attack on worker autonomy and unregulated space

"We've cut the amount of time it takes to do their job by 40 per cent and we are still paying the same rate," says PMP's managing director, Brian Evans. PMP is one of those companies that delivers flyers, paying teenagers and others to walk through neighborhoods putting them on doorknobs.

Because of the nature of the job, it's often hard for bosses to evaluate exactly how much work has been done, and workers routinely reorganize their workload themselves by dumping flyers in the garbage, taking much longer than necessary to complete assigned tasks and deviating from assigned routes for their own purposes. Frequently out of the direct surveillance powers of the boss, the relative autonomy of the job is a bonus from the perspective of the worker and a problem from the point of the view of the boss, perpetual enemy of human freedom that s/he is.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
It used to be such a simple job.

The 14-year-old girl would pick up the pamphlets at a warehouse in Artarmon and deliver them around Lane Cove.

Not any more. One Saturday recently she turned up at the warehouse to find that she would have to strap a global positioning system around her waist.

Her employers would be able to track every step she took, ensuring not only that she visited every house she was paid to, but that she followed the route devised by management to save time, and that she did the deliveries within the set time frame. Instead she quit.

By the end of next month every delivery person, or "walker", handing out flyers in Sydney for PMP, the country's largest distributor of unaddressed mail, will be tracked by satellite.

The walker who spoke to the Herald, and who did not want to be named, said she felt as though her employers did not trust her.

"My parents think it's stupid. They think it's bad that a tracking device has to be issued just for delivering pamphlets," she said.

The secretary of Unions NSW, John Robertson, is so angered by the use of GPS to track workers that he has called for the NSW Government to amend the Workplace Surveillance Act to have it outlawed.

"It's outrageous that the first experience a child has of earning a dollar is to be treated like a criminal," he said.
When PMP introduced this blatant attack on worker autonomy, they anticipated resistance, so they included resignation forms with the informational packet handed out to workers. Several, like the worker above, quit.

But Evans defended the technology and it's authoritarian impact on workers.
"The professional people who do this job are happy they can now prove they have done a good job," he said.

Mr Evans said PMP was the first business in the world to use GPS technology in this manner and that it allowed the company to demonstrate to its customers that all their pamphlets were delivered on time.

He said new processes were introduced in tandem with the GPS that included completing and sorting the pamphlets for the walkers.
There was no indication that Evans intended to wear a GPS tracker himself. Squeezing more work and more profits, while reducing the individual freedom of workers is a common application of technology in the workplace. One doesn't have to try too hard to imagine bosses also using it to track troublesome workers or to limit their ability to organize collectively to defend their power on the job. Further, the information could be used to track workers - female ones, for instance - for even more nefarious purposes.

PMP isn't the only one using GPS at work. Newindpress out of India reports that a police department there has begun tracking its vehicles with GPS.
“We have conducted some trials on a couple of private travel operators and found the system working very effectively,” said an official involved in the R&D.

As part of the trials, the police fixed a GSM tracking device on a taxi with the permission of the owner, but without the knowledge of the driver. Next day, when the driver came to deposit the vehicle at the office, he was shocked to find the master giving a minute-by-minute account of the just-completed travel assignment.
The goal there is not just to control police on the job as workers, but also to augment the class warfare capacity of the department by making the dispatching of police officers quicker and more efficient, thus giving criminals and other enemies of the state less time to escape. A police official involved in the project said, “The GPS would enable us to identify the police vehicle which is closest to the scene of any accident or crime. So we can assign the task quickly." They hope to track 87 vehicles.

In Britain, the Ministry of Defence plans to use the technology for both the above purposes.
"Using Masternaut vehicle tracking we know exactly where all our vehicles are at any point in time," said Steve Morgan, Account Manager for Ian Williams. "This has had a significant impact on our service delivery, noticeably reducing 'down time' and therefore improving overall efficiency. There are also benefits for the health and safety of our mobile workforce, as we know the exact location of every team member we can react quickly should the need arise."
Here we see a typical argument of the new political environment trotted out: safety. Increasingly, the system and individuals within it at all levels view the lack of direct tracking or absolute knowledge about an environment as the equivalent of dangerous or unsafe. Dark places, unregulated space, where the state or capital's omniscience encounters resistance or limits, have become objects of suspicion and mistrust.

So, it shouldn't surprise us that, while the system is working very hard in its relentless war against unregulated space to expand its level of knowlege about the physical geography of its domain and the movements of the citizens within it, individuals themselves have increasingly begun to demand the expansion of the scope of the unblinking eye of the state and capital.

Along those lines, Cellular-news.com reported that Qualcomm, a leading cell phone manufacturer, announced that
"More than 200 million GPS-enabled handsets have shipped over the past few years, demonstrating that consumers are increasingly demanding location services on the wireless device that most carry with them all the time," said Rob Rovetta, senior director of product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies. "Qualcomm's gpsOne technology puts high-performance GPS into handsets, making possible a wide variety of services that make day-to-day activities simpler, safer or more fun for the wireless user."
And when a school district in Mumbai, India, installed GPS in all its busses, the reaction from parents was predictable. One parent said, "GPS adds value to the existing school bus system. I feel a lot safer knowing that our kids can be located at any point of time. One can also refer to past files of the bus movement and analyse what went wrong in case there is an accident."

Reflecting another tendency of technology - the transfer of authority off the job floor and into the direct control of managers and their lackey technicians - school principal Meera Isaacs added, "This will greatly enhance security, as we will no longer be dependent on a call from the driver or the attendant in case of an emergency."

The growing insistence on the technology at the top of the hierarchy, combined with the growing consumer demand at the bottom, has created a dialectical vice grip from which it will be difficult to escape. As GPS spreads, human freedom diminishes a little more, illustrating once again the absolute necessity of integrating a deep and radical critique of technology into our revolutionary politics.

If it may have been possible at some point to divide technological innovation from its class warfare implications (a dubious conjecture, however), that is certainly not the case now. Failing to recognize the role of technology with regard to the transitioning nature of power in this ever-more technologized and omniscient world is a major mistake that will surely haunt us as we struggle to overturn the corpse machine before us in hopes establishing any new society rooted in freedom, justice and cooperation.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Resistance to Speed Cameras Grows in Britain

Resistance has grown in Britain to speed cameras like those recently turned off (probably temporarily) on the Scottsdale section of the 101. The New York Times reports on the growing number of arsons, explosions and other direct actions aimed at disabling the cameras.
KELVEDON HATCH, England - To drive in Britain is to measure out your trip in speed cameras. As inevitable as road signs and as implacable as the meanest state trooper, they lurk everywhere, the government's main weapon against impatient drivers.

It is a shame that so many people hate them.

Among the ways that motorists have made this clear: spraying the cameras with paint; knocking them over; covering them in festive wrapping paper and garbage bags; digging them up; shooting, hammering and firebombing them; festooning them with burning tires; and filling their casings with self-expanding insulation foam that, when activated, blows them apart from the inside out.

Visual examples can be seen on the Web site of a vigilante group called Motorists Against Detection, which displays color photographs of smashed, defaced and burned-out cameras - pornography for the anti-camera movement.
Despite public sentiment against them, the government makes the case that they successfully reduce speeds and deaths on the road.

Other, less violent methods of thwarting the cameras have spread as well:
Paul Smith, head of an anti-camera group called the Safe Speed Road Safety Campaign, said that drivers spend so much time scouring the roadside for cameras that they forget to pay attention to the road.

"We've got a nation of people who have one eye looking out for the next speed camera, another looking for a speed limit sign and another looking at the speedometer - which is a bit of a shame, when you only have two eyes," he said. Camera technology has moved on considerably since the 1990s, when the first speed cameras were installed in Britain. Now, in addition to the standard cameras that photograph the speeding cars' license plates, there are cameras that can accurately photograph drivers' faces - so that they cannot claim someone else was driving at the time the speeding took place - and cameras that work in teams, calculating average speeds along a stretch of road.

Of course, for every ingenious new camera, there is an ingenious new camera-thwarting device. These include constantly updating global positioning system equipment that alerts drivers to speed camera locations and a special material that, when sprayed on a license plate, is said to make it impervious to flash photographs.

There are also the low-tech methods of covering a license plate with mud and altering its letters with black electrical tape.
Meanwhile, Motorists Against Detection has called for all out war on the cameras. Claiming its members have already destroyed 1000 cameras, the shadowy group recently declared a "summer of MADness."
Motorists Against Detection, the vigilante anti-speed camera group have announced a summer of MADness which will see them target for destruction all speed cameras in the UK. It’s now going to be a period of zero tolerance against all speed cameras, said their campaigns director Capt Gatso.

The group claims speed cameras are just money-making machines and they have given the authorities long enough to prove their worth. The first camera to fall in the summer campaign is in south east London on the A2 at the Sun in the Sands roundabout on-slip heading northbound towards the Blackwall Tunnel.

Capt Gatso, the group's campaigns director, said: "We have completely pulled it out of the ground, it is now lying flat. You can see some of our handiwork posted on www.speedcam.co.uk. He added: In many areas the cameras have not saved one life - the statistics for road deaths haven't gone down. In some areas they have actually gone up - in Essex, for instance, which has a high density of cameras there are more people being killed. We are now planning to target any and all cameras until the Government sees sense and rethinks its road safety policy. Before we had speed cameras we had the safest roads in Europe - since their introduction this is no longer true.

The announcement will surprise many in road safety circles since the group has publicly declared it would not attack cameras outside schools or on high streets. But Capt Gatso said: We need to focus attention on what the cameras are about. We’ve said we wouldn’t attack the ones in built up and urban areas but that’s not where most of the cameras are. There are a lot of frustrated people among our members who have seen the number of cameras increase while road safety levels have fallen. Indeed, the only thing the cameras have done successfully is to reduce the number of traffic officers patrolling our roads and lose a lot of decent people their driving licences and their livelihoods.

MAD is the UK’s only direct action anti-speed camera group and it’s been going since summer 2000. In that time they have taken out just over 1,000 cameras. Their membership who are normally law-abiding people - vary in numbers but there is a hard core of around 200 people throughout the UK who use Internet chat forums, encrypted email and pay as you go phones to keep in touch and plan campaigns.

The group says it has perfected a new and quick way of destroying speed cameras which will enable them to destroy a roadside camera in just a few seconds. Capt Gatso added: The Government and the camera partnerships have failed to spin out via their PR campaigns to convince people that the cameras are there for road safety. Motorists know that they aren’t. All it’s done is further damage the police/public relationship and further alienating communities which they desperately need onside at this time. Many cameras have gone up on busy roads without any history of accidents despite that being the main criteria for installation.And all the time the partnerships and the Treasury rake in millions of extra revenue.
The spread of a direct action campaign that targetted the cameras and their power to function as intended, whether through direct attack on the cameras or subterfuge to avoid detection, would be a positive development, indeed. As with all the cameras spreading through modern cities, these cameras are primarily about control and surveillance, regardless of what their boosters may say about safety.

But, unfortunately, MAD makes the mistake of calling for a reduction in cameras but an increase in police officers. By framing their argument primarily as one of safety and accepting the state's argument for their necessity, they wind up in a debate that the state can't help but win. More cops, more cameras... why not both? This is a troublesome argument for obvious reasons, especially in a political environment like the current one where, thanks to the fear-mongering, opportunism and manipulations of the elite, the distinctions between safety and security have blurred into almost utter meaninglessness.

In fact, in late September, the Herald reported that "Exceeding the speed limit was the main cause in only %5 of accidents..." Looked at this way, opponents of the cameras could make an argument that nullifies the state's demands for both more police and more cameras, allowing the case to center instead on the surveillance and power aspects of the technology, which is where it ought to be if our goal is something more than safety - like human freedom.

(Thanks to Collin Sick for the NYT article)

Take MAD's "Spot the Speed Camera" game to get an idea of the way the cameras are being used in Britain.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Marcos Speaks From Magdalena

Enlace Zapatista has the transcription and audio from Subcomandante Marcos' speech in Magdalena on Saturday. I had to leave before he spoke because of time constraints - we barely made it across the border as it was - so I missed his talk. I thought others might enjoy listening to it, so here's the link:
Palabras del delegado zero a los pueblos tohono o’odham, navajo y cherokee

By the way, if anyone has a link to the rest of the tour schedule I would appreciate getting a link to it. I can't seem to find it anywhere. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Surveillance equals class war

Surveillance technology will soon become ubiquitous. Increasingly, face and movement recognition algorithms are merging with camera technology, including digital cameras you can buy at retail outlets. Unregulated space will soon disappear. What will this mean for social change, much less revolution, as it becomes increasingly difficult to organize both illegal and legal actions that are capable of impacting or getting the upper hand on the state and capitalist interests?

Contrary to prevailing opinion, surveillance tech is not neutral, and it is not just the state we have to worry about. Vigilantes, cops, bosses and all kinds of "legitimate" and self-appointed authorities will use the technology to control and manipulate us so as to maintain their control and, in the end, their profits, power and wealth. The image of a cop using face recognition technology to nab speeders in court by establishing their identities is an application we're not too surprised by, however disturbing it may be, but what about when your boss installs movement recognition technology to make sure you're not taking unauthorized breaks or chatting with co-workers - or a union representative? What about when you can't supplement you measly paycheck by grabbing something out of the register or pilfering a little something off the loading dock because the computer knows what that kind of movement looks like?

We should listen to officers like PC Pat Knight when he tells us that he
...has pioneered a new approach that is seeing offenders imprisoned, banned from driving and having their car seized and sold or crushed.

His team, based in Crouch Street, has started using the latest in face-recognition technology to expose people who falsely claim they were not driving the car at the time of the offence.

And its use of perjury laws and a change in magistrates' powers has seen cases dealt with quicker and more appropriate offences meted out.

"False declaration – it's a massive, massive problem," Mr Knight said.
"People think by lying about who's driving they'll get away with speeding and by giving false addresses we'll give up chasing them; we won't.

"I'm like a terrier; when I get my teeth into something I don't let go and I'll keep coming after offenders until they're caught and punished."
But we shouldn't expect the surveillance to end there. Increasingly, mobile and wireless technology are making surveillance possible anywhere, at any time, as we learn in a recent article in India's Daily News and Analysis:
Moving beyond the four walls of corporates, malls and shops, video surveillance is set to become mobile, courtesy a new generation of devices allowing security monitoring through laptops, handsets and PDAs.

United States-based mobile manufacturer UTStarcom has come out with a pocket PC on CDMA platform and plans to make mobile video surveillance technology available in India.

"Using a black box, one can upload feeds from a surveillance camera to the Internet which in turn can be accessed through a mobile handset," UTStarcom Personal Communications Director-South Asia Mohit Kapoor said.

The company introduced its Pocket PC that functions on a CDMA platform allowing video surveillance through mobile handsets at the recently concluded Mobile Asia 2006.

Although, the black box is provided by another company, Fling, UTStarcom's product costs around Rs 33,000.

"We are targeting not only the corporates, shopkeepers and parents who want to keep tabs on children when they are away," Kapoor said.
"Time to lean, time to clean," as they used to tell me when I worked retail. Today I watched a worker wipe down the screen on a self-checkout machine - not in use at the time - for five minutes straight while the camera above her looked on. Or perhaps not. The surveillance state eats unregulated space and actions with a voracious appetite and you never know when it's on. Soon, it will always be on.

Capitalists and the state are dreaming big when it comes to surveillance and they are investing big as well. These technologies are the cutting edge of class war, and we should never mistake them for anything else. And the elites don't just want to control our individual actions. They also want to make sure we can never challenge their power in the streets either. As reported by Defensetech.org today,
SOCOM just gave Colorado Springs-based Securics, Inc. a $100,000 grant to start developing programs for "Monitoring of Crowd Activities." The idea is to train cameras to find faces from afar, and to "develop new algorithms explicitly for crowd management, rather than building on the traditional intelligent video surveillance algorithms that are focused on isolated targets." Oh, and by the way: this should all happen in a small, self-contained system that takes up barely any power at all.

Securics will start small, looking at algorithms for a crowd's "vertical motion energy," like a group of people "pumping its fists, or raising signs," says company chief Terry Boult.

There will also be some comparisons to how much activity is usually in the area. "If normally, on Tuesdays, there are only three people on this corner, and now there are 50, maybe there's a problem," Boult adds.
Legitimate political action - as opposed to that which comes from the elite through the state and capitalist institutions - require that people be able to engage freely in actions that challenge the status quo and the elite it benefits. Said another way, freedom requires dark places and law breakers. The harder it becomes for oppressed and exploited people to challenge the system through means other than those pitiful few already firmly controlled by the elite - like elections or petitioning, for instance - the more power that elite will have. And that's not a recipe for freedom.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A brief trip to La Otra Compana

Yesterday myself and three comrades trekked the several hundred miles south of Phoenix and into Mexico to meet up with the Zapatista's "La Otra Compana". It was a long ride but one of the most inspiring political experiences I've had in a long time. It was fucking awesome to finally see the process by which the listening tour operates and to be physically close to a movement I have followed for many years.

The event began with what I believe to have been a Mayan ceremony that culminated with vigorous drumming, dancing and pro-EZLN chanting. Following that, a panel was assembled and some of the attendees rose to speak about their particular situations, with indigenous representatives going first.

The location was amazing - a ranch/hostel between Santa Ana and Magdalena. Someone had painted a giant and colorful Virgin Mary on the cliff face of a nearby mountain overlooking the ranch. It was well attended, numbering around a couple hundred folks. Representatives of various indigenous peoples spoke about their troubles, which often focused on the disposal or storage of toxic waste on tribal lands by government or corporate interests and the harmful and offensive effects this has.

There was some dissension when the representative from Phoenix's Tonatierra took a position to speak. He was interrupted by O'odham attendees who disputed his ability to speak as a representative of an indigenous organization. After some discussion of the matter by tribal elders, he was allowed to continue, although with the caveat that it be clear he did not represent an indigenous group.

My crew couldn't hang over night, so at around 8:30 we left, just barely making it across the border in time. We were briefly searched, an experience that was clearly shortened by the agents' desire to close out their shifts and go home. "Now can we go home?" one of them whined to a superior officer as we got back into the car and pulled away. It was clear they didn't feel we really meritted their full attention.

Nevertheless - as I can't help but notice every time I go to Mexico - despite any minor shakedown we may receive on crossing, the border simply doesn't exist for people like me and my other white American comrades. We weren't stopped on the way into Mexico, which is typical of my experience, and at the Border Patrol checkpoint a few miles into the US we were sent on our way with a relatively casual inquiry as to our citizen status. No proof was required except our white skin and perhaps our accents, it seems.

Below are some photos I took with my phone. The first photo is the van in which Marcos arrived. The next one is a picture of the event itself. The speakers generally took a place next to Marcos, and he took notes when not greeting or talking quietly with them. Translation was provided, which was helpful to me since my Spanish is still a bit shaky and I did not understand any of the indigenous languages spoken. The final two photos are shots I got of Marcos right after he arrived.

marcos arrives

marcos arrives


Thursday, October 19, 2006

A non-lethal blast from the not-so-distant past

Thanks, Matt, for sending me this little gem from last month:
Nonlethal weapons touted for use on citizens
Air Force secretary says they should be used for domestic crowd control

'Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” said Wynne. “(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.”'
Non-lethal weapons are the ultimate weapon of the democratic society: no one generally gets seriously hurt, fewer shocking images appear on television and, in the case of political actions, the authorities afterwards can chastise all the targets for their failure to participate in the system as it exists (which elites control, of course). Win-win as far as the rich and powerful are concerned.

Nevertheless, the Secretary's bold statement didn't stop his underlings from two weeks later making the other side of the argument, demanding that the military should be allowed to use 'non-lethal' weapons in the elite's 'war on terrorism' abroad:
DoD officials today urged a change in policy that would allow U.S. servicemembers to use tear gas and other non-lethal weapons in the global war on terror.

Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Otis G. Mannon, deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on readiness and management.

At issue is an Executive Order issued in 1975 that forbids American servicemembers’ “first use of riot control agents in war, except in defensive military modes to save lives.” The policy further states that all use of riot control agents in war “is prohibited unless such use has presidential approval in advance.”

An amendment in the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act -- the Ensign Amendment after subcommittee chairman Nevada Sen. John Ensign -- takes non-lethal weapons for riot control out of this prohibition.

Benkert said officials want “to assure that our men and women in uniform have the full range of options available to them to carry out their missions.”

Benkert stressed that the riot control agents he was talking about are not listed in a Chemical Weapons Convention schedule. He is referring to such non-lethal weapons as tear gas and pepper spray. He also said his testimony did not address other non-chemical, non-lethal weapons such as foams, water canons, beanbags or rubber bullets.

“It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their armed forces can use riot control agents only in defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agents using them effectively every day,” Benkert said. “The United States military must operate within the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Executive Order 11850, which constrain the ability of our armed forces to use riot control agents in offensive operations in wartime and obviously do not apply to our colleagues in law enforcement.”

Benkert and Mannon stressed that even when allowed to carry these weapons, DoD personnel go through exhaustive and comprehensive training on their use. He said they also receive training in the law of war and applicable Geneva Conventions implications. “The Department of Defense has issued regulations, doctrine and training materials providing guidance as to when riot control agents may be used,” he said.

Before U.S. military personnel may use riot control agents, they must have proper authorization. The president must approve any use in war in a defensive military mode to save lives.

“Under various circumstances, in light of the changing environment in which armed conflicts are taking place, in such a dynamic environment the peacekeeping, law enforcement and traditional battlefield roles of deployed units may be present at different times within the same theater of operations,” Benkert said. “The use of riot control agents will be evaluated based on the particular unit or mission involved and the particular facts and circumstances of the mission at the requested time.”
We know that there is a lot of cross-training between US forces abroad, Iraqi and other foreign and domestic police forces. Meanwhile, the US has spent a lot of time training in both US and foreign cities for crowd control operations, often masked as anti-terrorism drills.

Not to defend democratic capitalism and it's terrified (white) middle class backbone, but with the elimination of the middle class proceding apace - the system's traditional pragmatic bulwark - we probably would do well to ask ourselves just what kind of system they intend to replace it with... and just what role the system has in mind for illegal dissent in the future. Likely little to none.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, radicals must fight the introduction and application of 'non-lethal weapons' as part of the struggle to preserve openings for social change, which we know depend on the possibility of illegal political action.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

News of Interest for 10/17/06

US Reviews War Plan on N. Korea
"Under the envisaged plan, U.S. combat aircraft and bombers, such as F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters and F-15Es, would conduct ``surgical strikes'' on major weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities, training sites, and intelligence and communication facilities in the North instead of ground forces advancing into the North, the report said."
L.A. Cops Crack Down on Skid Row as Gentrification Looms
'On Friday, documentarian Ernest Savage videotaped police putting handcuffs on a mentally ill man and driving him away. The man’s wife, also mentally ill, erupted into tears and screams. When an LAPD officer shouted at her to pack up her tent, she wailed, "I can’t do it without him." The officer simply pushed past her to enter and investigate her home while she shouted in protest.'
Cameras snap shooters
"Crime surveillance cameras in Cincinnati will get smarter next year if City Council has its way. A majority of council members made their intention clear: They would like to spend about $6 million in the next two years on digital cameras intended to zoom in on anyone who has fired a gun. Sound sensors activate the cameras when there is a gunshot, then instantly transmit the location of the gunfire and video of the scene to the 911 dispatch center - and perhaps even into video terminals in police cruisers."
ITALY: One Parliamentarian in Three Takes Drugs – Row over Test by TV’s “Le Iene”
"One MP in three enjoys a spliff or a snort” according to Le Iene, the satirical TV show that – lawyers permitting – will start a new series, due to go out on Italia 1 at 9 pm, with a scoop. On the pretext of an interview about the budget, Le Iene reporter Matteo Viviani managed to persuade fifty members of the Lower House to talk to the camera of a non-existent station. An accomplice pretending to be a make-up assistant then dabbed perspiration from the victim’s forehead to take a drug wipe, which in theory should reveal whether the person has taken drugs in the last thirty-six hours. Thirty-two per cent of the parliamentary wipes proved positive. Specifically, twelve out of fifty (24%) tested positive for cannabis and four (8%) for cocaine."
New RFID tech would track airport passengers
"The inventors of a new monitoring system that uses RFID tags claim it could improve airport security by tracking passengers as they mingle in the departure lounge."
Is Germany Falling into Poverty?
"A new study claims that around 8 percent of all Germans live under the poverty line. Some believe the country is giving birth to an underclass that, unlike the impoverished of previous generations, has completely given up on the future."
Gaza doctors say patients suffering mystery injuries after Israeli attacks
'It is not clear whether the injuries come from a new weapon. The Israeli military declined to detail the weapons in its arsenal, but denied reports that the injuries came from a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime), a new experimental weapon that causes a powerful blast but in a localised area. The Dime, while causing severe injuries to its target, is intended to limit what the defence industry calls "collateral damage."'
Florida Wal-Mart Workers Stage Protest
"In a rare demonstration, more than 100 Wal-Mart employees rallied yesterday at a store in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., a Miami suburb. They were protesting a new policy on employee absences as well as efforts at the store to cut workers’ hours."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

News of Interest for 10/12/06

Minutemen misconstrue protests
"The student organizers at Columbia have established a precedent for how we should fight. Whenever racists come to campus, we need to unite and challenge them. This action shows that when we go on the offensive, we can win. We don’t need to hide behind politicians or beg for a seat at the table. We should demand it!"
200,000 years for all trace of Man to vanish from the Earth
"IF MAN were to vanish from the face of the Earth today, his footprint on the planet would linger for the mere blink of an eye in geological terms."
War or Rumors of War?
'What's going on with the current bustle around US naval stations? According to Time, the Navy has issued “Prepare to Deploy Orders” (PTDOs) to a strike group including minesweepers, a submarine, an Aegis class cruiser, and a mine hunter. Taken alongside disclosures that the chief of naval operations asked his planners for a rundown of how a blockade of Iranian oil ports would work, these military preparations led Time to conclude cautiously that the United States “may be preparing for war with Iran.”'
Terror Raid Rocket Launchers Chemical Explosives But No Headlines
"This week a British National Party (BNP) election candidate has been accused of possessing the largest amount of chemical explosives of its type ever found in Britain. "
Crash site is home to many of Manhattan's wealthy elite
"The 54-storey apartment block in the Upper East Side lies at the centre of one of Manhattan’s most exclusive areas, just a short walk from the homes of Woody Allen and Paul Newman."
High-tech school security is on the rise
"Each morning, the 16,000 students in the Spring Independent School District in suburban Houston swipe their ID tags as they climb onto the school bus. A radio frequency tag tracks them, as it does when they arrive at school and as they leave the building."
Prince Harry's anger as Army chiefs push for war zone ban
"An angry and embarrassed Prince Harry was last night considering quitting the Army after commanders banned him from serving on the front line in Afghanistan."
‘Hamid Karzai worked for ISI’
"LAHORE: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a former agent of the Inter-Services Intelligence, when it had its horns locked with Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan."
Pakistan's shadowy secret service
"Just to get a sense of the scale of the operation - the CIA provided enough arms to equip a 240,000-man army, and the Saudis matched US funding dollar for dollar."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No one whines like a white kid at ASU

Ah, yes. No one whines like a white kid at ASU. Sophomore Matthew Jezierski does it like a pro. Last month Jezierski made waves at ASU when he became the local face of a Campus Leadership Program attempt to organize a "Caucasian American Men of ASU" front group on campus.

According to its website, the CLP is a conservative group that sends
[t]rained field representatives... to college campuses to identify and recruit student leaders who create and oversee organizations on each campus. Each local campus organization identifies, recruits and trains conservative college students who will promote conservative principles effectively.
In other words, Jezierski is a dupe whose reactionary politics have allowed him to be manipulated by an outside force pushing a right-wing, white supremacist agenda.

According to a recent article in the State Press, ASU's newspaper, ridiculously titled "The new minority?":
...with the official recognition of Caucasian American Men of ASU, or CAMASU, Jezierski, an industrial design major, said he would get the representation he and other Caucasian males deserve.

The student group of more than 40 members plans to become an official organization by registering with the Student Organization Resource Center today, Jezierski said.

"As soon as we become an official group, we can be taken more seriously," Jezierski said. "It won't be like we're preaching on campus."

After Jezierski learned of the group last month from Leadership Institute field representative Emily Mitchell, he said he immediately became involved.

After spending time on campus talking with students who said they wanted more representation for white males, Mitchell decided CAMASU was needed.

She then sought out students like Jezierski to start the group, she said.

"I want to put in as much time as is needed," Jezierski said. "This club is a way to instill pride in each other and not be ashamed that we're Caucasian males."
Unsurprisingly, Jezierski offers no real evidence to support his claim that white males are under attack at the university, but his pride in whiteness remark sure sounds familiar.

The very idea that whites or white men specifically are a disadvantaged or under-represented minority at ASU is ridiculous. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. First of all, there are all kinds of white people at ASU. The Regents is practically overflowing with white folks, with plenty of white males representing. The President of ASU is a white male, and he follows in the footsteps of many white men before him. Further, beyond positions of power at ASU, whites are actually over-represented in the student body as a whole. According to the US Census in 2004, barely 61% of Arizonans are white (almost certainly an over-estimate), yet in 2003 68% of the student body was white. Indeed, if anyone is under-represented it is Hispanics, who at 12% enrollment total less than half their count in the general population. If CAMASU were truly interested in addressing disparities, they would do well to start there.

Cali Kahlman, Feminist Organization member, has it right when she told the State Press that, "The group sounds like it consists of white men who cannot comprehend how ... much easier they have it than the majority of society. They are aggravated because people are 'taking away' their rights, which is complete nonsense."

The benefits of whiteness are many. Higher incomes, longer lifespans, better access to resources, higher net worths, lower incarceration rates and better access to advanced schooling just scratch the surface.

The problem is Jezierski makes the classic confusion between ethnic identity and the political identity of whiteness.
One ASU policy CAMASU intends to challenge is the general studies requirement of a course relating to cultural diversity in the United States, Jezierski said.

He said classes in European history and languages should also be included in the requirement.

"I can fluently speak and write Polish. I don't know how that's not culturally diverse," Jezierski said. "God forbid something comes from Europe."
Speaking Polish is awesome, but is Jezierski, who the Nazi's probably wouldn't have considered white, asserting that Polish is the language of whiteness? Clearly that's ridiculous, not least because Poles certainly weren't considered white when they first began immigrating here.

The fact is, whiteness is a political identity, a political relationship which was consciously constructed through law and political action by a combination of English elites and some working class European immigrants. In order to make the New World safe for their profits, Colonial elites offered some immigrants from Europe a "Devil's Bargain" in which some privileges would be extended to them in exchange for accepting the subservient status of others, slaves most importantly, but also including Indigenous peoples and other Europeans.

Originally it excluded plenty of Europeans we now consider white, including Irish, Poles, Jews, Italians and others. The fact that this identity has evolved proves its political nature. Poles didn't evolve into whiteness. It wasn't a genetic process, or even a cultural process, per se. They became white through politics. Generally, European immigrants have had to prove their worthiness as white people. Referring to the Irish experience, Noel Ignatiev put it this way:
There were two things they had to do. First, they had to distance themselves as much as possible from the black population of North America. They had to do whatever they possibly could to create barriers, to insulate themselves, to separate themselves from the black population.

The second thing they had to do was overcome the resistance to their own civil rights coming from the people who were better off than them--that is, the native Protestant, bigoted, anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner establishment that was running the country.

There was a relationship, in fact, between these two tasks. To the extent to which they could prove themselves worthy of being white Americans--that is, by joining in gleefully in the subjugation of black people--they showed that they belonged, that they deserved all the rights of citizenship. On the other side, to the extent to which they were able to force their way into the white polity of this country, they were able to distance themselves from black people.
Whiteness and Polish ancestry were not always considered mutually inclusive, and this is what Jezierski doesn't understand. By defending his whiteness, he is defending not an ethnic identity, but rather a political identity that is opposed to the interests of people of color and equality in general. It is a racist identity, quite unlike his Polish ancestry. By organizing a political group (white men) that already has power and privilege he is consolidating power, not reclaiming it or redressing a disparity.

But, in tried and true fashion, CAMASU is good at playing the blame game. First, they have attempted to flip the script by claiming that the resistance that they experience from the student body and administration is "racist."
Jezierski said CAMASU is trying to increase equality between races and genders, and nothing else.

"This isn't a mindless, sexist and raceless group," Jezierski said. "It's the opposite - we want to stop sexism and racism."
Quite a hilarious accusation, since white men suffer no discrimination at ASU, nor are they alienated from power.

And just this week the group cried to authorities about an alleged assault on the CLP's outside agitator, Mitchell. While out hoping to capitalize on some student's white supremacist sympathies, Mitchell was confronted by two women who identified themselves as Fine Arts professors. During the discussion, which Mitchell was filming (and later posted on YouTube), one of the professors reached out and attempted to grab the video camera. Mitchell alleges she was assaulted in the process, which, if true, would be a brave step out of theory and into practice for what appears to be two well-meaning anti-racist professors.

Let's hope that ASU students that are truly dedicated to anti-racism and anti-sexism find a way to confront and stop this troubling development on campus. White men who really want to fight racism and sexism should stand up and shut this organization down now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Never heard of Khuzestan? Get ready to.

[UPDATED 10/9/06]

With navy deploying its assests, including aircraft carrier battle groups, minesweepers, anti-submarine forces and an amphibious strike group that includes a marine expeditionary unit, war seems quite possible with Iran - and sooner rather than later. US forces have been drilling for various Iran attack-related scenarios, with more drills on the short-term horizon, including anti-submarine drills and nuclear attack drills. Anti-submarine and minesweeping drills involving a Middle East adversary can only mean Iran.

Many interesting articles have been written lately about America's war plan, mostly focusing on the air campaign that is likely to target Iran's supposed nuclear assets. As many know, this attack may include tactical nuclear strikes since Iran's alleged nuclear facillities are buried deep in the ground. Below is a list of the three analyses I have found most informing on the broad matter of war with Iran:
  1. The March to War: Naval build-up in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
  2. US vs. Iran: Is an attack inevitable? by Abbas Bakhtiar
  3. The March to War: Iran Preparing for US Air Attacks by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
As insane as it seems, war with Iran seems a legitimate and near-term possibility. But why? The WMD argument seems, as was the case with Iraq, to be a charade. Even US intelligence agencies estimate it may be as long as a decade before Iran gets the bomb, assuming such a program even exists. Another potential cause cited by US forces, allegations of Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq, suffered a blow today when British forces revealed they have found no evidence to support such a claim.

So what's the real reason? Iran is poised to open its own oil market, called a bourse. The opening of the Iranian bourse will represent a significant challenge to the US because Iran plans to switch from the dollar as the currency of oil transactions to the euro and it's own Rial. Some may remember that Saddam Hussein switched from the dollar to the euro as its oil currency in 2000. After the US invasion, the occupation switched it back to the dollar. Venezuela and Russia have indicated they may switch to the euro as well.

The reason this is significant is that the dollar is now the currency of oil transactions, meaning that oil sales at the various international oil markets are demarcated in dollars. That means that because there is a constant demand for oil, there is a constant demand for dollars. This artificially inflates the value of the dollar much beyond the true value it would otherwise have, given our trade deficit and national debt. Maintaining the dollar as the reserve currency of international oil gives the US a lot of international leverage, not to mention allowing it to print money without it becoming inflationary - a tremendous advantage given the massive national debt.

As Mike Whitney wrote in February 2006,
The bottom line on the bourse is this; the dollar is underwritten by a national debt that now exceeds $8 trillion dollars and trade deficits that surpass $600 billion per year. That means that the greenback is the greatest swindle in the history of mankind. It’s utterly worthless. The only thing that keeps the dollar afloat is that oil is traded exclusively in greenbacks rather than some other currency. If Iran is able to smash that monopoly by trading in petro-euros then the world’s central banks will dump the greenback overnight, sending markets crashing and the US economy into a downward spiral.
Or, as George W. Bush himself said in 2005,
"A successful Iranian bourse will solidify the petroeuro as an alternative oil transaction currency, and thereby end the petrodollar's hegemonic status as the monopoly oil currency. Therefore, a graduated approach is needed to avoid precipitous U.S. economic dislocations. This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous... Having said that, all options are on the table."
Which brings us to Khuzestan.

Khuzestan, situated in the southwest of the country near Basra, is where 90% of Iran's oil production comes from. Oil workers there were instrumental in the overthrow of the Shah in the revolution and continue to trouble the regime with strikes and other disruptions. Workers there recently staged demonstrations demanding payment of back wages.
Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power proclaiming that he would tackle corruption and poverty. Under his administration, the situation facing Ahwazi workers is worsening. Instead of backing the workers, he is calling out the troops to repress them. If they refuse to work, they lose their jobs. This is not an option in a region like Ahwaz (Khuzestan), where unemployment is high, particularly among ethnic Arabs.

"After months of wage arrears many feel they have nothing to lose by going on strike and taking to the streets in protest. Workers are struggling to feed their families and pay for housing. Yet, the Ahwaz region is one of the most oil rich in the world. The oil revenue is going straight into the pockets of the mullahs while workers are forced into virtual slavery. Iran is breaking international labour codes and should be chastised by the international community for its poor treatment of workers."
And unrest has been growing over the last year or two.

Khuzestan is also largely Arab, not Persian and separatists there often refer to the region as "Arabistan". It's the birthplace of the British Petroleum. And it was the main target of Saddam Hussein's doomed invasion in 1980. British troops occupied it during WWII. When the locals got upset about foreign ownership of their oil fields, the CIA overthrew the populist Mossadegh regime and installed the Shah, who handed control of the fields back to the colonials.

The region remains unstable and Iran has accused British forces of engaging in destabilization operations in there, including bombings. Iranfocus.com reports that,
Iranian security forces have recently arrested a network of “separatists” in the Iranian capital Tehran and the oil-rich south-western city of Abadan, state television reported.

The report said that the network was being supported and strengthened by the intelligence apparatuses of certain neighbouring states and a European country which it did not identify.
These allegations came on October 2.

A US attack would likey involve a sweeping into Khuzestan - perhaps with an amphibious marine attack on the main port - resulting in occupation and the cutting off of the Iranian military from it's oil reserves, and also subverting the ability of Iran to pose a threat to the dollar with it's bourse trades, perhaps carving it out as an oil mini-state like Kuwait. Elites here at home increasingly speak openly about carving up Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that US force levels have increased lately to over 140,000 and the military expects it to remain there for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, units in country continue to have had their departures delayed and others have been rushed to Iraq ahead of schedule.

For more on this, I recommend checking out KHUZESTAN: THE FIRST FRONT IN THE WAR ON IRAN? by Zoltan Grossman and Mike Whitney's Annexing Khuzestan; battle-plans for Iran. As hard to believe as it may be, even more war looms on the horizon.

Friday, October 06, 2006

News of Interest for 10/06/06

Rap's Captive Audience
"A respectable album run inside prison means selling as few as 1,000 cassettes. (Although rules vary from state to state, CDs are banned in most maximum-security facilities because of their potential as weapons.) In recent years, RBC's prison marketing has resulted in underground hits for Compton rapper-producer DJ Quik — now serving a five-month sentence for assault — and Memphis rapper 8 Ball. To hear it from the company's executives, a cellblock hit can lead to outside sales of up to 300,000 copies: major success for an independent record label like Woodpile's imprint, West Coast Mafia Records."
Iraq’s diverse Shia
"Surprisingly, Iran’s strategy is not based on a sense of allegiance but on its understanding of the Shia, whose diversity it recognises, along with their different collective identities. Iran realises that there is a deep social divide between conservative Shia (the religious community in Najaf, traders in the holy cities, urban middle classes) and the “revolutionary” masses who support al-Sadr (4)."
Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of U.S.
'The new software would allow much more rapid and comprehensive monitoring of the global news media, as the Homeland Security Department and, perhaps, intelligence agencies look “to identify common patterns from numerous sources of information which might be indicative of potential threats to the nation,” a statement by the department said.'
Democracy, Thai style - Ban the politicians
'Politics is a dirty word in many countries, but mistrust runs so deep here that those who have been members of political parties or have held political office during the past two years are banned from doing what would in other countries be seen as their primary job: writing the supreme law of the land. "This is democracy Thai style, not European style," said Pramuan Ruchanaseree, the co-founder of the Pracharat political party and thus disqualified from taking part. "No one trusts politicians."'
'Queer Socialism' Intersections: The LGBTQ Role in Society, the Struggle and Socialism
'Like most sectors, the LGBTQ sector is not monolithic. The LGBTQ community crosses class, ethnic/racial, national and gender lines. Resistance to the organized attacks of the radical Right has been a unifying factor, but despite this resistance, understandable contradictions exist. The liberal sector of the bourgeoisie have sought to exploit these contradictions and have sought to include, within limits, the struggle for LGBTQ recognition into their hegemony. Clinton's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" did not fundamentally attack the roots of LGBTQ oppression, and while the majority of individuals who were thrown out of the military for being queer were African-American women, white gay males were the main beneficiaries of this policy and were held up as the poster children by various organization for this project. The movement for gays in the military also raised questions from the Left in the LGBTQ movement about why we should struggle to be part of the military apparatus of the bourgeoisie.'
Staging for war
"Here is a prediction we sincerely and desperately do not want to see come true -- that the Bush administration will launch an air attack on Iran's nuclear research facilities in late October."
Confronting Sexism and Misogyny: Where My Brothas At?
"As a Black man, my racial identity makes me mad as hell at the fact that seven White boys were brazen enough to publicly show explicit pictures of Black women without fear of consequence. It conjures uncomfortable images of the historical exploitation of Black women by White men that is rarely discussed. As a social/community psychologist, however, I am perplexed by the fact that, to my knowledge, no public statement condemning the acts has come from Black fraternities, Black male faculty, or Black male administrators – either at UGA or any university."
Meet the "Whack Iran" Lobby
"Exiles peddling shaky intelligence, advocacy groups pressing for regime change, neocons bent on remaking the Middle East. Sound familiar?"
Fight club uncovered in Stockholm
"The combatants and spectators are said to include well-known figures from the Swedish film industry, as well as estate agents, salesmen and a number of people well-known in the upper-market bars and clubs of Stockholm's Stureplan area."
How Al Qaeda views a long Iraq war
"But a letter that has been translated and released by the US military indicates that Al Qaeda itself sees the continued American presence in Iraq as a boon for the terror network, which has recently shown signs of expanding into the Palestinian territories and North Africa."

Monday, October 02, 2006

News of Interest for 10/03/06

The March to War: Naval build-up in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean.
"The broader war theater would extend far beyond, northwards to the Caspian Sea Basin and eastwards to Pakistan and China's Western frontier. What we are dealing with is a chessboard for another Middle Eastern war, which could potentially engulf a much broader region."
This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like
"As Congress debates torture and detention for suspected terrorists, you can see what waterboarding is all about."
Stopping Crime in Real Time
"The ability to fight crime in real time-that is the vision of New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Beginning his second term as police commissioner in 2002, Kelly knew that properly implemented technology could reduce police officers' reliance on paper reports and non-integrated databases to identify crime patterns, thus allowing officers to focus on what they do best: solving crimes and apprehending criminals."
Baghdad curfew was in response to 'coup attempt'
"A blanket 36-hour curfew imposed on the Iraqi capital Baghdad from Friday evening was in response to an information leak concerning a possible coup attempt, according to an Iraqi Shiite parliamentary deputy."
In Thailand, a New Model for Militants?
"Since 2004, militants in Thailand's predominantly Muslim south have waged a bloody separatist insurgency against the cultural elite of this largely Buddhist nation, targeting teachers, monks, community leaders and government officials. So far, 1,700 people have been killed, yet the campaign of almost-daily bombings, arson attacks, kidnappings and assassinations has gone largely unnoticed in a Western world fixated on higher-profile Islamic terrorism campaigns in Iraq and elsewhere."
President dubs alleged Pearl killer MI6 spy
"Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has disclosed that Omar Sheikh, who kidnapped and murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl and is now facing death penalty, was actually the British secret Agency MI6’s agent and had executed certain missions on their behest before coming to Pakistan and visiting Afghanistan to meet Osama and Mullah Omar."
In Iraq cellphones bear nothing but bad news
'"Whenever I want to call someone, I see the names of my dead friends in my phonebook," said Ahmed Nabil, 22, a media student who has lost two brothers and two friends in the violence. "Then I leave my work to remember the time we spent together, and I start crying.'
Police: Cameras Not Helping Fight Crime Much
"Many D.C. police said they had hoped that installing dozens of new surveillance cameras across the city would assist them in cracking down on crime, but the system does not appear to be working as planned."
Russian oil grab 'puts western supplies at risk'
"A former government adviser has warned it is "only a matter of time" before BP or Shell faces a bid from a Russian state-owned group such as Gazprom which could threaten western oil supplies."
Both genders suffer from compulsive buying
"People who have compulsive buying disorder -- sometimes called compulsive shopping disorder -- are often struck with an irresistible, intrusive and often senseless impulse to buy. Sufferers often compile thousands of dollars in debt and lie to loved ones about their purchases. The consequences can be bankruptcy, divorce, embezzlement and suicide attempts."
America is living beyond its means
"It's 2056. After a coup in Saudi Arabia, the new government announces it is cutting off supplies of its dwindling stock of oil to the United States. The White House responds by sending in the troops, but is forced to withdraw after Beijing says it will only continue shoring up the dollar if the military action is called off."

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