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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

News of Interest 6/19/07

I've been busy with various other projects, so I apologize for the lag in posting this last week.

No regrets from an ex-Algerian rebel immortalized in film
"'This was not just a tactic. It was part of a whole strategy that included mass participation. It was specifically targeted at occupiers, not just anybody,' he said, his small, almost boyish body devoured by a large armchair. 'We killed women, yes, and took fetuses out of their wombs. But ours was for liberation. This was our only means against a cruel enemy.' He also noted, much like a rebel character in the film predicted, that the National Liberation Front botched its rule of Algeria after it took power. The government triggered a post-1992 round of violence when it canceled elections that an Islamic party was favored to win."
Greece: 4 Banks Damaged in Attack
"About 20 masked youths wielding sledgehammers and iron bars damaged four banks and a government car during business hours in central Athens Tuesday, police said. One man suffered light injuries from broken glass. No arrests were made. The youths attacked branches of Citibank and three Greek banks, smashing storefront windows. Police said the attackers scattered leaflets demanding the release of Greek anarchists, charged or convicted for various crimes, from prison."
Playing the blame game on vandalism
"Also early Weds., June 6, five chain businesses -- Talbots, the Gap, Coach, Apple and Starbucks -- and one independent optometrist's office were smashed along Walnut Street, Shadyside's trendy retail corridor. Managers at the chain establishments declined to speak with City Paper. Zone 4 Commander Kathy Degler did not return several calls seeking comment. What, if any, relation the incidents at independent and corporate establishments have to one another is unclear. All bore anti-capitalist messages and coincided with the G-8 summit -- an annual gathering of the world's leading industrial nations, and a perennial cause for anti-corporate activism and protest. None of the incidents included robbery. Eyewitness accounts and surveillance video indicate that all the attacks were carried out by people in dark hoodies and bandanas. But the choice of targets is confounding. The Quiet Storm and the Co-Op, as independent entities, seem to be odd choices for such political vandalism. References to the G8 summit -- often protested for insufficient action against poverty, AIDS, climate change and other ills -- and the timing of the incidents indicates that the vandalism did have a political motive, as does the anti-capitalist sentiment scrawled on the Co-op."
Text messengers to fight crime in Boston
"Boston's police, facing an upsurge in murder and other violent crimes, have set up a system to allow witnesses to tip them off to crime by sending anonymous text messages. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said the 'Text a Tip Program,' announced on Friday, appeared to be the first in the nation to combine cell phone text messaging with an anonymous police tip line. He said he hoped it would crack a street culture where gangs often punish people who 'snitch,' making it hard for police to solve crimes at a time when the murder rate is rising."
Supermarkets offering personal scanners
"The scanners are "purely about convenience for customers" and do not replace store employees, who can be deployed elsewhere in the store, Pawelski said. ...William Stewart of Sykesville avoided lines while shopping with his father at the Eldersburg Martin's store. Stewart said he prefers the system over the traditional checkout, except for its occasional problems accepting coupons. 'I do miss the interaction with the cashiers because my dad and I are people persons. But you do beat the line and, once you get used to it, it pretty much works for itself,' Stewart said."
Web cam to eye test-takers
"This fall, Troy University in Alabama will begin rolling out the new camera technology for many of its approximately 11,000 online students, about a third of whom are at U.S. military installations around the world. The device, made by Cambridge, Mass.-based Software Secure, is similar in many respects to other test-taking software. It locks down a computer while the test is being taken, preventing students from searching files or the Internet. The latest version also includes fingerprint authentication, to help ensure the person taking the test isn't a ringer. But the new development is a small Web cam and microphone that is set up where a student takes the exam. The camera points into a reflective ball, which allows it to capture a full 360-degree image. (The first prototype was made with a Christmas ornament.)"
Ex-cop sells pot tips on DVD
"Barry Cooper sells a DVD on how to stash pot in your car without getting caught. This fall he will release a second one on how to keep police from raiding your home for marijuana. Now for the kicker: Cooper is a former narcotics officer once considered among the top cops in Texas, where more marijuana is seized each year than in any other state. The formerly straight-laced lawman has become a shaggy-haired militant for the legalization of weed."


Monday, June 11, 2007

Teachable moments in class war history: Paris Hilton in and out of jail

Despite complaining about the media obsession with covering her case, hypocrite Hilton gave an interview to Barbara Walters from jail. It seems she called home from jail just as her mom happened to be chatting it up with the world famous journalist, an old family friend (such is the elite life, I suppose). Mom quickly arranged an impromptu interview.

Perhaps taking a card from the President's playbook, she urged "the public and the media [to] focus on more important things, like the men and women serving our country in Iraq". Showing yet again how out of touch she is with reality, Paris attempted in her own fumbling way to divert our attention with an appeal to patriotism just when public opinion has significantly turned against the war. Nice try, Paris, but we don't believe you. Backasswards and self-serving though her appeal may have been, the gross inequalities revealed by her treatment seem to resist even the most tried and true ruling class diversionary techniques. That signifies a rupture in the typical functioning of the elite propaganda system and therefore represents an opportunity for anarchists. Indeed, in this case, aided by the paparazzi and celebrity press - the red-headed stepchild of the mainstream media - regular folks forced the re-incarceration of a wealthy heiress, and that is to be celebrated.

But all is not well with Paris. It turns out that she has been refusing food and water because she's afraid that a guard will take a picture of her on the toilet with a cell phone camera and post it on the internet (a fate actually visited on many poor women in Sheriff Joe's jails a few years ago, a point that provides more than a little irony given Arpaio's offer to house Paris in his internationally condemned Tent City). Nevertheless, she reassures us, she's a changed woman now: "I used to act dumb. That act is no longer cute. Now, I would like to make a difference...God has given me this new chance."

Whatever. I won't hold my breath waiting. I'm still hoping she gets shivved in there. Barring that, I'd be satisfied with putting her in the general population so she can at least see what it's like for regular folks in jail. In all likelihood, they'd be the only regular people she's ever met that weren't expecting a tip. Still, despite her claims to the contrary, even in jail personal growth eludes Paris, who can't help but wallow in her totally unexceptional punishment, crying "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" when the judge's decision to send her back to jail was announced. Proving that her willful naiveté runs in the family, Paris's mommy fell to her knees in shock! The shock was probably only compounded by the sudden forced cancellation of Paris' "freedom party" at her mansion.

Speaking of privilege (and how can't you when talking about Paris Hilton), it's worth knowing that Paris' billionaire grand daddy gave the maximum allowable contribution to the very Sheriff who let her out of jail early. This sheriff has a history of soft treatment of celebrities that run afoul of the law. Money talks, Paris walks. But not this time, perhaps.

Now, if only folks can take their justifiable outrage and turn it towards a broader critique of the prison system. So far, the story is so outrageous that it's hard to ignore the class implications of just who goes to jail and who doesn't in this country. Nevertheless, most the analysis I have seen merely reinforces the hard-line "do the crime, do the time" argument.

Still, some inmates have had some practical advice for her. One inmate in Joe's jails, doing four months for her own DUI advised, "This is not where you want to be. They try and break you down but you gotta be strong." Another prisoner offered this: "If you're gonna drive, don't go over 70 so that they catch you if you're on probation." Another said, "Be cool to everybody, don't run your mouth a lot."

But the problem with Paris getting out wasn't so much that she got out early. Lots of people get out early in California's jails since they're so over-crowded (200,000 early releases since 2002). Being rich certainly didn't hurt her, at first, and Paris clearly expected special treatment (and is still receiving it since she's being housed in a special section reserved for cops, the rich and celebrities - a teachable moment of its own). Nevertheless, the point that should be made is that more people ought to be getting out of California's prisons, and that far too many people are going there in the first place. It's precisely Paris' specialness - rich, white - that threatens to bust through the typical bullshit that passes for debate on prisons and jails in the US. With more than 2 million in prisons and another five million behind bars in jails (that's 1 in 32 people!), America's prisons are filled to bursting with the victims of a brutal class war that not only generally passes folks like Paris by, but directly benefits them.

Given that it treads so dangerously close to issues of class and privilege that they would much rather ignore, the media and elites are working hard to recuperate this issue. Indeed, in true fascist form Sheriff Joe worked that angle hard in a recent article, pushing class antagonisms not to open opportunities for liberatory dialog, but rather to reinforce the overall class system of policing and imprisonment. "Now she's going home with some Mickey Mouse bracelet. That never would have happened here... I am totally against bracelets. I think it's a cop-out. I'd love to stay in her mansion," he said, upon hearing of her initial release. "I've got 10,000 people in the tents," he bragged.

Always room for one more, right Joe?

Likewise, J.R. Dieckmann of the Conservative Voice has decried Paris' early release as well, priming us with a class appeal against a "a spoiled rich, no talent, celebrity who believes her money places her above the law" but offering up this explanation for her exit:
California has a “three strike rule” for felons. Two slaps on the wrist, then you go down for the count. But because of County jail overcrowding by criminal illegal aliens [my emphasis], most offenders serve only 10% of their sentence, the rest is commuted to probation or electronic monitoring. Misdemeanor offenders sentenced to 10 days are usually out in one. No one serves their court ordered sentence in Los Angeles and criminals know it. Brief jail time for a crime is merely a break from the stress of life on the streets.
Likewise, some on both the left and right are already decrying the Paris fiasco as a distraction from real issues. Rick Orlov, columnist for the LA Daily News admonishes us for falling for what he considers a ruling class ploy aimed at diverting us from more important business.
Every politician in the state - except, maybe, Sheriff Lee Baca - should be thanking Paris Hilton.

It is fairly amazing how a 115-pound celebrity suddenly became the 800-pound gorilla of public policy. She has become the queen of distraction politics with an early jail release that has become the focus of a wrathful public spotlight.

Forget the threat by the feds to pull funding from Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital.

Never mind the LAPD turmoil over the May Day melee at MacArthur Park.

Ignore the lack of success in finding Osama bin Laden or passing an immigration reform bill.
Sure, these are all very important issues, but the Paris spectacle shouldn't be reduced to just mere celebrity-obsession or ruling class plot. Nor should we be so sure about who it will benefit.

Paris, unwittingly for sure, has opened a window through which many Americans can vent their hatred of the rich and celebrity, of special treatment and the increasing bifurcation of this society into two distinct classes, even if they are each further divided within themselves (with richistan at the top and race and gender divisions at the bottom). In this sense, the Paris obsession is in fact quite different from the usual celebrity fare.

Though accused of celebrity worship and slagged off by the mainstream media, the celebrity press and paparazzi echoed the class resentment of its readers. CBS News blogger Brian Montopoli reflected the general disgusted tone of the more responsible corporate mainstream newsmedia, which itself was practically overwhelmed by the demands of its customers for class war Paris Hilton coverage.
[T]he nature of the Hilton coverage has been downright embarrassing. Instead of looking at the reality of the situation – and segueing into a discussion of the loopholes, double standards and arbitrariness one often finds in the legal system – most media outlets are pandering to news consumers' class resentment.
As if the growing class resentment wasn't newsworthy?! What Montopoli is missing is that most Americans aren't surprised by the "loopholes, double standards and arbitrariness" of the legal system. They're tired of it.

Reflecting this, celebrity sites like TMZ.com featured regular and humiliating video of her and features on Rev. Al Sharpton's sermon's on inequality in the justice system as well as other pieces on unequal treatment in jails. And gossip sites like Perezhilton.com posted sarcastic articles highlighting her sister's tear-filled shopping trips to "[drown] her sorrows away by hitting up some boutiques in Malibu" while her sister sat in jail.

Bypassing the main media apparatus, the message boards, too, were full of quite vigorous denunciations of not just Paris but the system she represents. On a Sioux City Journal message board, Greg Thatcher wrote, "She is no better than the rest of us and if she thinks that she is maybe this will help her to see that she can't just do whatever she wants and get away with it! The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and when they get away with things like this it makes you realize how off balance things really are." Another poster on the same board, momof2, wrote
She thought that money would be able to get her out of serving the term!! I am glad that she is back in jail serving her sentence. They have medical facilities in jail for a reason, if she would have been in her home, she would have have her own soft bed, beauty supplies, maids, and tons of other stuff. She deserves everything the judge has given to her. Hollywood stars have gotten out of hand!
On a Yahoo message board, Em answered the question of Paris' release from jail with
I knew she would never serve much time in jail. I think it is a joke- how can anyone call house arrest (especially for her in her mansion) a punishment? I wish I could buy my way out of anything with my millions... :)
Even when they used the logic of "do the crime, do the time," in this context folks - unlike Joe Arpaio - were hoping to hold the system accountable to its own professed logic in order to force not consistent treatment (because that would have led to her release like so many others) but rather exceptional treatment upon someone viewed as a class enemy.

Right now, America is united against wealth and inherited privilege. In a real sense, the Paris brouhaha reflects what Rightwingworld.com columnist Dennis Lennox calls "anti-rich sentiments". Public outrage has forced the administrators of so-called justice in this country to put one of its own back in jail despite the standard calculations that would have let her and many others out. This runs against not just the traditions of privilege but also the general standard of treatment. And that's why it's a victory for all those of us outraged and opposed to wealth, power and privilege.

This is a moment that anarchists would be remiss to let pass us by.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Eying up the future: iris scans spread to Iraq and New Jersey schools

A recent Washington Post/MSNBC article about US forces joining up with Sunni insurgents to attack Al-Qaeda contained this interesting little nugget towards the end:
Kuehl said later that he would probably supply weapons to the militiamen, but in limited amounts. The fighters have given the Americans identification, including fingerprints, addresses and retinal scans, so the soldiers believe they could track down anyone who betrayed them. "What I don't want them to do is wither on the vine," Kuehl said.
Alliances with the occupier - even alliances of convenience - aren't what they used to be in Iraq.

News of US forces using retinal scans and other forms of biometric tracking and identification aren't new. After the US forces destroyed that city, officials began requiring returning residents of Fallujah to obtain biometric ID cards and to submit to retinal scans before re-entering the city. But the security procedure has spread. Iraqi troops, forced to abandon their reliable AK-47's for American-made and much more complicated M4's, will have to submit to retinal scans as a condition of receiving the new weapons. This information, of course, can be used to track the weapon, with the intent of keeping it out of the hands of insurgents (Iraqi police and soldiers routinely either sell their weapons or work both sides of the fight). Likewise, officials hope that the massive databases they are compiling can be used to screen out potential sympathizers with the insurgency.

The scanning device of preference seems to be the PIER™ 2.3 – Portable Iris Enrollment and Recognition Device, produced by Securimetrics Incorporated. According to the spec sheet, the scanner
"is a rugged hand-held device that allows the operator to enroll and identify individuals using the highly unique patterns and textures of the human iris. The PIER™ can store a database of up to 200,000 individuals (both left and right eye) and quickly return the identity of the subject. Tethered to a PC, the device can match an unknown individual against a database of millions with extremely high accuracy."
The company's website claims that PIER has been approved and deployed by a variety of government agencies, including The Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC), seeing action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia ("the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) registered the irises of 1.8 million Afghans in 2002").

With the increasing overlap of domestic policing and foreign war-fighting (Blackwater deployed in New Orleans, NY and LAPD training Iraqi police), we can almost expect such technology deployed here at home, almost certainly against marginalized or vulnerable populations.

And so, knowing that, it should come as no surprise that the technology has already spread into public schools, thanks to government subsidies (in this case a $369,000 grant from the Department of Justice). According to an ABC News article,
Parents who want to pick up their kids at school in one New Jersey district now can submit to iris scans, as the technology that helps keep our nation's airports and hotels safe begins to make its way further into American lives.

The Freehold Borough School District launched this high-tech, high-wattage security system on Monday with funding from the Department of Justice as part of a study on the system's effectiveness.

As many as four adults can be designated to pick up each child in the district, but in order to be authorized to come into school, they will be asked to register with the district's iris recognition security and visitor management system. At this point, the New Jersey program is not mandatory.

When picking up a child, the adult provides a driver's license and then submits to an eye scan. If the iris image camera recognizes his or her eyes, the door clicks open. If someone tries to slip in behind an authorized person, the system triggers a siren and red flashing lights in the front office. The entire process takes just seconds.
The superintendent of the district clearly supports the program (on a side note, check out the way that the technology breaks down normal human relationships, such as holding a door for someone or the traditional method of protecting kids from stranger dangers in which their teacher knows their parents):
Phil Meara, Freehold's superintendent, said that although it was expensive, the program would help schools across the country move into a new frontier in child protection.

"This is all part of a larger emphasis, here in New Jersey, on school safety," he said. "We chose this school because we were looking for a typical slightly urban school to launch the system."

Meara applied for a $369,000 grant on behalf of the school district and had the eye scanners installed in two grammar schools and one middle school. So far, 300 of the nearly 1,500 individuals available to pick up a student from school have registered for the eye scan system.

"The price tag was high really due to the research and program development," Meara said. "We're all aware that at that price, this system couldn't be duplicated at other schools. But most of the money paid for the development. So my prediction is that in the future, the price of this system will be much lower."

Meara said they were trying to deny entry to anyone who wasn't permitted in the building and ensure that when an adult came to take a child out of school, he or she was who they said they were. Meara was also involved with a pilot program that took place in 2003, in Plumstead Township in New Egypt, N.J.

The superintendent found that teachers and parents often held the door open for others as they entered the school, which allowed strangers to slip right in behind.

This new eye scan system, however, catches strangers. Once the iris scanner permits an individual to enter the school, it monitors how many people pass through the door.

"Biometrics is the wave of the future," Meara said. "Everything I've heard is that there will be a tremendous emphasis on making schools as safe as possible. If our school process [shows] that this system works, yes, it might just take off."
And that's not the only school. In Britain the technology has been trotted out to track kids in the lunch line and checking out library books. With the current state of fear permeating American families and schools (remember the Al-Qaeda school bus scare?), and the concomitant desire to make schools as "safe as possible", there is little doubt that, as Meara suggests, the technology "might just take off."

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Anti-war right fights to succeed where the anti-war left has failed

I remember some conversations around 2002 and 2003 about how much many of us anarchists in Phoenix hated the way the liberal left was so anti-libertarian when it came to anti-war organizing. Already sick of the antics of the anti-war left, some of us put forward the idea of an anarchist/libertarian alliance against the war and the curtailing of civil liberties.

However, trapped in their silly left-right crap and aided in large part by the liberal actions of the supposedly radical Bring the Ruckus collective here in town, the liberals who had come to dominate the movement didn't see any value in reaching out to the libertarians. At a demonstration, I once even saw liberal organizers demand that the cops disarm some libertarians who came packing to an anti-FBI PATRIOT Act protest. Those folks never came back, of course. Aside from the hypocrisy of a bunch of supposed pacifists asking the heavily armed and violent cops to disarm someone exercising their constitutional rights, it sure looked like a bad move strategically at the time to a lot of us, as we were short of allies to begin with. But now, with the total failure of the left to stop the war, it looks like some on the left are finally beginning to look right instead of left for allies in the fight against the war.

There are some problems, specifically the electoralism of some politicians (Ron Paul) and elements of the libertarian 9/11 Truth movement. And, we have yet to see the development of a direct action ethic amongst the libertarian right when it comes to the war. Of course, the left suffers perhaps even more from this affliction, having just elected an anti-war congress that they can't seem to get to vote anti-war and having repeated the same boring and ineffective protest tactics (if you can call speechifying about Israel a tactic) for five years now. Also, the libertarian right is quite explicitly capitalist, but it is an anti-corporate, anti-elitist sort, so I think there is room there for anti-capitalist anarchists - at least as much as there is on the left, where we are surrounded by our traditional enemies, the big-state communists of all stripes.

The libertarian right also suffers from an overly optimistic assessment of American history. To keep them honest, one frequently has to follow up their romantic rants about the good old days with the caveat "for white men". Nevertheless, the left has never been a terribly comfortable place for anarchists either, to put it mildly. Not fitting on either side too well, who other than anarchists are positioned to address both sides of this movement? As we see the merging of these two movements (or perhaps the abandonment of the leftist side of it for the right), it offers a prime opportunity for us as a movement. Plus, it offers the possibility of encircling the moderate, pragmatist (and electoral) left, which is really the main impediment to truly challenging the war in a broad way.

So, in that spirit, check this article out. It's written from the perspective of a Green, but I think it is still useful to anarchists opposing the war:

Antiwar Libertarians Put Lefties to Shame

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Monday, June 04, 2007

News of Interest 6/4/07

Somebody's Watching You
"Cop Watch LA is no longer relying on mere coincidence to capture images of police misbehavior. Dressed in black and red Cop Watch T shirts, the young members are motivated and vigilant — telling their own stories of victimization at the hands of police. When many young adults are often sleeping in during the weekends, they are often getting up before 7 a.m. to patrol downtown LA in an effort, Austin says, to keep police from harassing the homeless population."
Activists Don't Always Want Celebrity Help For Their Causes
"Simon Teune, an academic who studies protest movements at the Berlin Studies Center, says a survey of several campaigns shows that 'the original objectives of civic movements get watered down whenever celebrities come on board.' The faces tend to package their social criticism in a generalized way and to drop the radical edge. 'They say they are against poverty. So what? Do you know anyone who is in favor of poverty?' he said. The celebrities focus on phenomena that can readily be portrayed as scandalous, but do not point any finger at the political and social causes of the crises, he said. 'That is why a majority of the critics of the G8 are not too rapt about all the celebrities jumping in to lend their support,' Teune explained."
These days a good butler is hard to find
"his crisis might bring scoffs of mock sympathy from commoners. But it is causing anxiety from estates in the Hamptons to the ocean-side mansions of Malibu. There's a butler shortage. 'If we doubled the number of butlers, they wouldn't be without work,' said Charles MacPherson, vice chairman of the International Guild of Professional Butlers and president of a top household consulting company who also is an instructor at International Butler Academy in the Netherlands."
Median pay for Arizona CEOs in '06: $1.09 million
"Many Arizona chief executive officers collected an armload of goodies last year, and several took home grand prizes. Amid a benign economy and strong stock market, companies reported median CEO and chairman compensation of $1.09 million, according to an analysis of pay packages at 57 public firms by The Arizona Republic. That was down slightly from $1.11 million in 2005 but well ahead of median totals of $679,000 in 2004 and $629,000 in 2003. "
Vt. secession movement gains traction
"Disillusioned by what they call an empire about to fall, a small cadre of writers and academics hopes to put the question before citizens in March. Eventually, they want to persuade state lawmakers to declare independence, returning Vermont to the status it held from 1777 to 1791."
Japanese policeman stabs self to avoid work
"The plight of overworked Japanese employees was highlighted over the weekend when it emerged that a policeman had stabbed himself in the stomach and tried to make it look like an assault so that he could take time off work."
Are crimes in virtual reality subject to real laws?
"Earlier this year, one animated character in Second Life, a popular online fantasy world, allegedly raped another character. Some Internet bloggers dismissed the simulated attack as nothing more than digital fiction. But police in Belgium, according to newspapers there, opened an investigation into whether a crime had been committed. No one has yet been charged. Then last month, authorities in Germany announced that they were looking into a separate incident involving virtual abuse in Second Life after receiving pictures of an animated child character engaging in simulated sex with an animated adult figure. Though both characters were created by adults, the activity could run afoul of German laws against child pornography, prosecutors said. "


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