Archive for the 'SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY' Category

The Greatest Threat to Liberty on Its 125th Anniversary: Corporate Tyranny

October 28, 2011

Liberty turned 125 years today. The Statue of Liberty, that is. As we watch the celebrations of the anniversary of  the iconic statue symbolizing  Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, we should all take at least a moment to reflect on the state of citizenship and freedom -and unfreedom-in the United States.

In a word, freedom is in grave danger because of the most powerful Tyrant of our time: Corporations. There is no greater symbol of the destruction of freedom than Wall Street, which profits from all that has defined tyrants of previous eras: war, poverty, control of government, the lack of free speech, surveillance,  the denial of basic human and civil rights and even the the possible destruction of the planet itself.

The good news is that we are also witnessing an unprecedented global movement that’s trying to define freedom in the age of corporate tyranny. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s “Indignados”, the Arab Spring and other movements are directly confronting the corporate control of everything from the culture, land, sea, air we inhabit to  our genetic code and the food we eat. Occupy Wall Street is nothing if not a reflection of the threat to freedom posed by the ways in which corporations dominate the Congress, the electoral system, the economy and the Presidency itself.

The duplicity and threat of corporate-controlled freedom can be found on the Statue of Liberty itself. Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.

The same will to profit from the decimation of Liberty can be found in today’s naturalization ceremony being presided over by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. While Salazar is leading the naturalization ceremony of a small group of citizens at the foot of the statue, the Obama Administration is feeding the multi-billion dollar industry that persecutes and jails, surveills and deports more than a million immigrants since Salazar and the Obama Administration took the reigns of executive power. Such a situation has in essence has rendered meaningless the “New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the monument in 1903. The anniversary of “Lady Liberty” should give us pause to reflect on these words in the Obama era:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The golden door has become an iron cage; the masses are being huddled into private prisons whose stocks and profits now light the lamp of Liberty brighter with each new immigrant prisoner; The language of the “wretched refuse” on the “teeming shore has morphed an “anchor baby” that corporate-sponsored Republicans and even Democrats decry.

Such a situation points to how non-citizens, especially undocumented immigrants, are being used to divert from and disguise and the sad fact about citizenship in our age: corporate citizenship has humiliated and practically destroyed human citizenship. The buying of politicians by corporations has become synonymous with “democracy” in this New Gilded Age. But, instead of putting responsibility for the death of citizenship on the Corporate Colossus, there is a huge industry invested in blaming the “huddled masses” described in the New Colossus poem.

In the New Gilded Age, freedom and citizenship have become commodities that can be bought and sold.Freedom has become synonymous with “Free Trade”; “Freedom of the press”, to quote the great journalist AJ Liebling, “is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Religious freedom is centered at the altar of quick profits in a society forced to worship Wall Street.

If we are to alter this humiliation of Liberty, we have no choice to look not at the technofied torch and eyes of Liberty, which are monitoring us even as the torch shines forth the false image of “freedom”, but at the invisible chains that shackle the feet of Liberty. At the moment,  bottom-up, street level movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement stand at the feet of Liberty, trying to unshackle us from the chains of corporate tyranny.

May we still yearn to be free.

RED ALERT: Schumer, Dems and their Allies Ready to Support National ID Cards

June 25, 2009

national-id-papers-please

RED ALERT: Influential Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), some Dems, some DC groups (I’ve interviewed a couple) and even the SEIU’s Mike Garcia appear ready and willing to support a NATIONAL ID CARD. According to the L.A.Times,

“As the immigration reform debate begins to heat up again, some observers expect that one of the biggest and most controversial new elements will be a proposed national worker identification card for all Americans.

A “forgery-proof” worker ID card, secured with biometric data such as fingerprints, is an idea favored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y), the new chairman of the immigration subcommittee. Schumer, who will lead the effort to craft the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, called the card the best way to ensure that all workers were authorized.”

ACLU and others I’ve spoken with are already gearing up to condemn and fight this (if you want to understand why national ID’s are a big problem, see the ACLU’s “5 reasons” tip sheet). When I interviewed some, including national immigrant rights organizations in DC about this yesterday, their first tact was to prevaricate and confuse by saying something to the effect of “It’s not a national ID. it’s different.” Having covered the electronic surveillance beat when I first started doing journalism, I recognize when somebody’s BS’ing about these crucial, but complicated issues. Letting the DC operatives know that I know electronic surveillance caused a shift in the rhetorical strategy of folks like the person who told me, “Well, the bill is not out yet. So we can’t really argue about this now.” I truly hope that the “tradeoff” desperation of those who spent millions of dollars to get legalization for some undocumented is not so great that they are willing to lend themselves to support reactionary policies like the national ID proposals that’ve been rejected by people of many different political creeds time and time again. I really do.

This national ID move is either a labrynthine charade designed to give Obama and the Democrats a way out of their commitment to immigration reform-even the conservative, punitive “get tough approach of CIR”- or a very dangerous move to continue the Bush surveillance project under the guise “immigration reform.” Either way, this National ID proposal -and its supporters- must be roundly and rapidly condemned before they get Obama to back it with his wealth of political capital. And watch out for the MULTIBILLION dollar interests of Lockheed, Larry Ellison and Oracle, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for national ID cards for many years. It appears that the those eating and profiting at the anti-immigrant trough are now trying to turn a profit by denying fundamental rights to the non-migrant among us. Even many right wingers oppose national ID proposals as when Ellison shamelessly tried to promote his national ID project right after September 11th. He appeared to be “offering free of charge” the software to build such a national ID. But what he nor other backers of national ID didn’t and won’t tell you is that, like other open source software, Ellison and Oracle stand to make billions from upgrades to the national ID software. go figure.

In any case, some in DC will try to hide behind the “but there’s not even a proposal yet” logic that masks nefarious dealings in much the same way that that logic hid the disgusting parts of McCain-Kennedy. This stuff moves us beyond the neglect of detainee and deportee issues and into issues of state control of the entire populace. This needs a powerful push back , regardless of whether it’s backers speak Spanish or can say “Si Se Puede” to further eroding the fundamental rights of people in this country.

Grijalva Appointment to Interior Department Would Bring Ecological-and Political- Balance to Obama Cabinet

December 6, 2008

AlterNet

Anyone who has visited a national park or traversed the country’s diverse wilderness comes home with gorgeous, yet distressing images of it; those returning from a visit to one of the more than 562 tribes the federal government recognizes and is supposed to assist also bring back sad stories about it; and those of us who enjoy camping or fishing or hunting inevitably return home talking about it. “It” is the scenery and life found on the millions of acres of federal land left blemished and vulnerable by Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI).

As urbanization, economic restructuring and the insatiable lust for land and natural resources continue to threaten the still-astonishingly beautiful and rich land of this country, we should all care about whom President-elect Obama chooses to lead the DOI. The urgency of these issues came home twice this week as the Bush Administration delivered two parting gifts to big mining interests by rescinding two important regulations — one requiring the DOI to prevent mining companies from dumping waste near public streams and another protecting federal land near the Grand Canyon from mining and oil and gas development.

In order to deal with such challenges to the land and people under the purview of the Department, which is charged with managing most federally-owned land as well as with managing relationships with Native American peoples, the Obama Administration must appoint someone with the experience, expertise and political sophistication to lead nothing less than a New Deal for the land and people our government deals with.

Of all the candidates being vetted by the Obama transition team for this complex and challenging responsibility, none can match the unique qualifications of Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Grijalva, who was the leading voice denouncing this week’s most recent giveaway to mining companies by the Bush Administration, will bring urgently needed balance and poise to a federal land management bureaucracy that has pushed we the people into dangerous disequilibrium with the land we live on- and love. Appointing Grijalva, who was elected Co-Chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will also bring more and much-needed political balance to the Obama cabinet than some of the Republican-lite Democrats also being considered for the DOI post like California Blue Dog Democrat, Mike Thompson.

Like almost all of the previous Secretaries of the Interior, Grijalva hails from the West, more specifically Arizona, where his 7th Congressional district seat has provided him with the kind of experience and leadership we will need in a DOI Secretary.

Grijalva’s willingness to reverse the values and practices instituted by the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior are well-illustrated by his leadership of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the 110th Congress. Most recently, he spearheaded efforts to stop the planned re-mining of the Black Mesa, located in northern Arizona. In a recent letter to current DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Grijalva called on the Bush Administration to restore some semblance of the natural balance between the diverse interests DOI must manage: “Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos.”

This same will to balance informs the National Landscape Conservation System, and the Environment Congressional Task Force Co-Chair Grijalva’s efforts to craft urgently needed legislation to reform the very outdated General Mining Law of 1872. Environmentalists, scientists and other advocates believe this law must be changed if the wilderness of the west and of our national parks, forests and public lands systems are to return to sustainability. Such actions have secured very strong support for Grijalva’s DOI bid from environmental, scientific and other groups, including the National Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the U.S. Humane Society, to name a few. A letter to President-elect Obama in support of Grijalva was signed by more than 50 prominent scholars specializing in biology, conservation and other disciplines. In the letter, the scholars called him a “broad thinker” and praised the Congressman’s “Report on the Bush Administration Assault on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands” as the work of “someone who understands and values science.”

No less effusive are the statements of support Grijalva is receiving from Native American leaders like Ned Norris, who as tribal Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation-one of 7 tribes in Grijalva’s district- says he has “enjoyed an extensive and extremely positive relationship with the Congressman for many years.” Asked what appeals most to tribes like his about a possibility of a Grijalva-led DOI, Norris answered “He has a deep understanding of and respect for relationship between tribes and U.S. government.” Norris also pointed to the Congressman’s sophistication and success in settling a 30 year-old water and resource dispute between the Tahono O’odham tribe and the federal government.

In his efforts to foster change and hope with regard to both the stewardship of federal land and the management of relations with Indian nations, President-elect Obama will bring urgency and much-needed balance to these important government functions by appointing Congressman Raul Grijalva Secretary of the Interior.


This piece was first published on Alternet.org

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.

Race, Politics & the Deadly Rise of (Corporate) Media Sovereignty

July 27, 2008

Democracy Now!https://i0.wp.com/annenberg.usc.edu/images/events/big/unity.jpg

For the more than 10,000 attending the 4-day Unity Journalists of Color conference-the largest single gathering of journalists in the United States- one theme overwhelmingly dominated all others: how the thousands of under and unemployed journalists attending the conference signal a colossal crisis of U.S. journalism-and U.S. democracy. Whether it was the many traumatized and fear-filled workers we encountered , or the obvious humiliation of Truth in Journalism we heard on panels or the unprecedented lack of government transparency we discussed, the hallways of Unity were buzzing with devastatingly bad news.

The primary source of the bad news?: the sinister and extremely anti-democratic concentration of media ownership and power in fewer and fewer hands. Many of us are returning home clear of how one of the great threats to any democratic functioning is the deadly rise of Corporate Media Sovereignty. Nowhere was the threat more palpable than around that most critical of media issues of our time, Net Neutrality, the struggle to keep the internet open and free from the clutches of the exploiters of journalists, the purveyors of candy-coated UnTruth and enablers of government secrecy: Big Media.

I for one return from Chicago more convinced of the need to support the Death Penalty, the Corporate Death Penalty as applied to those companies that devastate the public good. We need to get back to those days when bad corporations lost their legal right to exist for violating the Public Good. This was the case from the foundation of the country until the late 19th century and we need to bring back the power of the people to apply the Death Penalty to corporations by denying them what in legal terms is known as “corporate personhood.”

This interview on Democracy Now explores these issues in the context of the interplay between race, media and politics. We discuss how, for example, Janet Murguia and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) -the same folks who supported the nomination of war criminal Alberto Gonzalez, are silent on Iraq and accept money from and promote the Pentagon- have been silenced and neutralized around Net Neutrality by the money they get from telecommunications companies eager to control the Internet. So check out how DN co-host (and now NAHJ Hall of Famer) Juan Gonzalez and author Amy Alexander and I explore these and other issues. Enjoy!

Issues You Won’t Hear about During the Campaign: The Pentagon’s Lust for Young Latino Bodies

June 12, 2008

Here’s an issue we can safely assume the candidates will conveniently ignore: the massive recruitment efforts of the U.S. Pentagon. This video doc by Jorge Mariscal and my friends at Project Yano details the machinations of the U.S. war machine in its efforts to not just survive to fight another day, but to simply survive.

As I’ve said previously, given the vastness of the U.S. military presence abroad, we can expect the Pentagon’s multi-billion (yes BILLION) dollar effort to recruit young bodies to intensify at home. Because of the rapid decline in the number of young blacks and women opting out of military service, the Pentagon has taken an unprecedented and very expensive interest in young Latinos.

So, if you want to destroy the Empire, you can do so non-violently by supporting anti-military recruitment efforts like those of Project Yano, the AFSC and a growing galaxy of organizations doing their part to bring down Sauron’s tower by bringing down the number of our kids doing Sauron’s bidding.

Check out this video by project Yano. Those of you who are teachers or those who work in community organizations can use it with young people to counteract the effects of the seamless system of war consciousness created by private-public partnerships like those documented in James Derderian’s book about what he calls the “military-industrial-media-entertainment network”.

So, Project Yano’s kind of media work previews what must be the future tactics of any effort to destroy the workings of militarism in the minds of our young. Check it out.

Electronic Dragnet for Undocumented Nets Citizens

April 8, 2008

New America Media, News Report, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Apr 08, 2008

Editor’s Note: Electronic programs to verify employment eligibility are meant to detect those working in the United States illegally. But an unlikely coalition of unions, business organizations and conservatives fear that error-filled databases might end up impacting citizens as well. NAM editor Roberto Lovato is a writer based in New York.

Two hours after starting his new job at a food processing plant in 2006, Fernando Tinoco got fired. “I went to work, felt really good to have a new job and started going to it,” says Tinoco, a 53-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Chicago. “And then they called me into the office and told me that my Social Security number was fake,” he adds, “And then they fired me.” Apparently, Tyson Foods Inc., Tinoco’s former employer, was one of the more than 52,000 companies voluntarily participating in “E-Verify”, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program designed to identify undocumented workers by electronically verifying their employment eligibility.

After the Kafkaesque experience of being hired, fired and trying to maneuver through the famously overstretched bureaucracy of the Social Security Administration to re-confirm status, Citizen Tinoco has become an outspoken critic of U.S. immigration laws’ impact on citizens. “I think that citizens need to be as careful of these new immigration laws,” says Tinoco, who now works at a school, adding, “they can ruin our lives too.” Tinoco found his concerns echoed by Jim Harper of the conservative Cato Institute, who recently wrote that “If E-Verify goes national, get used to hearing that Orwellian term: ‘non-confirmation.’”

That is why E-Verify is opposed by an unlikely alliance that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major unions, Republican legislators and others. But it is only one of a growing number of legislative and administrative immigration control initiatives that Tinoco and many critics believe will negatively impact not just non-citizens, but citizens as well. This week, for example, Congress is considering the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, which includes provisions that mandate a national verification system like that of the more voluntary state programs like E-Verify. Also causing intense fear is last week’s announcement by the Bush administration of revisions to its “No Match letter” plan, which requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send out 140,000 letters demanding that employers fire workers whose Social Security numbers did not match those in their records. Advocates are concerned that, like the E-Verify program and SAVE Act, the new No Match regulations will affect other U.S. citizens and authorized workers thanks to the same kind of faulty record keeping that led to Tinoco’s firing.

“By viewing these initiatives through the narrow lens of ‘immigration policy’ sold to us by politicians many fail to see that many of these programs will have direct impacts on many citizens,” says Michele Waslin, senior research analyst with the Immigration Policy Center. To support their claims, Waslin and other critics point to several reports like one by the SSA’s Office of Inspector General that found that there are 17.8 million discrepancies in the SSA’s records relating to lawful American workers. The report also found that 70 percent or 12.7 million of those inconsistencies belong to native-born (as opposed to naturalized) U.S. citizens.

Some advocates like Harper of the Cato Institute are fighting the proposals because they believe that there are no checks against government error or abuse against citizens in the programs ostensibly targeting those here illegally. “Once built,” wrote Harper, “this government monitoring system would soon be extended to housing, financial services, and other essentials to try to get at illegal immigrants. It would also be converted to policy goals well beyond immigration control.” Waslin agrees. “These programs will do nothing to deal with undocumented immigrants because people will simply go further underground,” says Waslin. “But they will eventually lead to a situation that will force every single person to ask the government for permission to work. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is it really worth it?’”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation, answers Waslin’s question with a resounding ‘no’, a ‘no’ accompanied by lawsuits, letter-writing and lobbying.

For their part, DHS representatives say that concerns about the effects on citizens are misplaced. The number of citizens mistakenly impacted by programs like No Match and E-Verify programs, says DHS spokesperson Amy Kudwa, “are a small portion of the population. Ninety-two percent of all E-verify queries are returned without incident in less than eight seconds and only 1 percent of them are contested. These are important tools in fighting illegal immigration.”

But advocates point out that, despite being run on trial basis, E-Verify and other programs have already demonstrated disconcerting flaws that are rooted in the unreliability of the technology and the databases like that of SSA.

In the face of so many legislative proposals and administrative initiatives, Tinoco says his obligation to speak only grows because of his concern for his fellow immigrants – and fellow citizens. “I still don’t understand: how can this happen here? It’s like a movie, a very bad movie.” Asked what message he has for his fellow citizens, Tinoco answers, “This can happen to you too.”

Interview: Decoding Liberation – The Promise of Free & Open Software

April 3, 2008

In the first of many interviews to come to you from Of América, we bring you an interview with Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter, authors of Decoding Liberation (DL) – The Promise of Free and Open Software.

I decided to bring this interview to you not only because of our wish to do more interviews about stimulating subjects with cool and smart people (We do); I also think that, in a “civilization” in which most of our infrastructure, most of our productive lives and our very DNA are mediated or manipulated by software, many of the classical questions and issues covered by one of my favorite pursuits, politics – freedom, power, citizenship, labor, production – must include a discussion of the liberatory potential in and of software.

Though interested in these critical, but heady topics, I am not the best person to either introduce or elucidate on such topics. Fortunately, my friend, Samir, and his colleague, Scott, are. So, without further adieu, here’s the interview, which covers lots of good and interesting ground.

Enjoy!

Of América: What is open source? Free software?

SC, SD: Over the past few decades, it has become common for software companies to provide their software only as executable programs: all we users have to do — all we can do — is install the software and start using it. But what if we users have an urge to modify the way these programs work? Maybe we wish some annoying behavior would go away, or we fantasize about some really useful feature that’s just not there. Most of the time, this sort of wishful thinking can’t go beyond fantasy: we’re at the mercy of the software company, who decides when and whether they’re going to distribute an update or new version. And any eventual update may not, of course, tend to our needs.

The obstacle here is that the executable form of the programs we’re given doesn’t give us access to the information — the progam’s “source code” — that a programmer would need to change the program’s behavior. Most of us aren’t programmers ourselves, but we could certainly hire one to do some customization for us, if we had the source code. But source code is guarded by proprietary software vendors as a trade secret, because they believe that much of the value of the company resides there.

But there is an obvious alternative: to distribute software with its source code. This is the guiding principle of free and open source software (FOSS). This distribution creates all kinds of possibilities: for users to inspect the code of the software they use, modify it if they have the need, and even, perhaps, to send these modifications back to the originator to be folded into future versions of the software. So, the core distinction between FOSS and proprietary software is that FOSS makes available to its users the knowledge and innovation contributed by the creator(s) of the software, in the form of the software’s source code. So what makes the software “free” is not that it’s free of charge (though it generally is), but that we’re free to do all these things with it.

The terms free software and open source software are nearly synonymous terms for this particular approach to developing and distributing software. The difference lies in how this software is described and what kind of advocacy is carried out: “open source software” advocacy mostly relies on arguments about this kind of software’s technical superiority and efficiency of production; “free software” advocacy certainly acknowledges these factors but also uses ethical arguments about users’ freedoms and the impact of software on the life of a community or society.

Why did you write this?

We began to wonder whether the freedoms of software bled over into spheres of activity that are affected by software, so our guiding question became, “What is the emancipatory potential of free software, and how is it manifested?” Freedom is a multifaceted concept subject to diverse interpretations across many contexts; our book is an attempt to bring out what specific moral goods free software might provide in several important areas. We wanted to understand what free software’s liberatory potential is and how we might go about realizing it: we thought we saw, behind the software freedoms, glimmers of some important messages about how we could work as a community, how knowledge could be shared, and what a highly technologized world could look like. This book is partly an expression of a utopian hope that these can be realized.

What does this stuff have to do with politics?

Technology has always had everything to do with politics! Technological artifacts of the past consisted only of hardware: engines, motors, pumps, levers, switches, gears. To control the hardware was to control the technology. Hardware is expensive to acquire and maintain, so technology was invariably controlled by large economic entities—states, then corporations. Concerns about social control invariably addressed control of technology; Marx’s concerns about the control of the means of production were focused on the hardware that both crystallized and generated capitalist power. The 20th century brought a new form of technology, the computer, in which hardware and control are explicitly separated. With the advent of the computer, the means of production no longer inhere solely in hardware; control is transferable, distributable, plastic, and reproducible, all with minimal cost. Control of technology may be democratized, its advantages spread more broadly than ever before. The reactionary response to this promise is an attempt to embrace and coopt this control to advance entrenched social, economic, and political power. It is this reaction that free software resists. Most fundamentally, free software is a vehicle for moral discourse and political change in the still-new realm of digital technology.

Why talk about liberation? What does software have to do with freedom? What does freedom have to do with software?

The ‘free’ in free software has been famously explained by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation as, “Think free speech, not free beer.” That is, software is a mode of expression; the protection of that freedom of expression is even more valuable than getting software “for free.” More specifically, the seminal Free Software Definition explicitly identifies four freedoms that are fundamental to users and developers alike: the freedom to run software for any purpose, the freedom to study and adapt a program to your needs, the freedom to redistribute copies of software, and the freedom to share your improvements to the software with the public.

In our work, we take free software to be a liberatory enterprise in several dimensions; we’re interested in the impact of the software freedoms, which seem quite technical on a first reading, on political, artistic, and scientific freedoms. The title of our book is suggestive of this impact: in a world that is increasingly encoded, our free software carries much potential for liberation. Granted, claims about technology and freedom are nothing new; much of the early hype about the Internet was rhetoric of this kind. But what is important about the recurrence of such hyperbolic enthusiasm is that it is clearly articulated evidence of a broad social desire for technology to live up to its potential as a liberatory force.

How deeply is software embedded into our lives? Does software control us or do we control software?

In a heavily technologized, computerized world—which we are slowly moving toward–the personal and social freedoms we will enjoy will be exactly those granted or restricted by software. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School perhaps puts it best:

“In the twenty-first century, power is the ability to change the behavior of computers. If you can’t change the behavior of computers, you live within a Skinner box created by the people who can change the behavior of computers. Every artifact around you responds by either handing you a banana pellet or a shock, depending upon which button you push and whether you are “right,” from the designer’s point of view.”

The question then becomes, “How closely does the designer’s point of view match mine?” And what recourse do we have if it’s not a good match? Free software offers us a qualitatively different measure of control over our machines.

Is this another book about how evil the King of Proprietary Software, Bill Gates, is?

No, it’s not. It is hard, though, to write a book about modern software without discussing the impact of the 800-pound gorilla that is Microsoft. The free software community is directly impacted by some of Microsoft’s action, like it’s omnipresent threat to launch patent infringements suits against free software projects. On the other hand, Microsoft has clearly acknowledged the impact of free software, as they have an active development lab dedicated to improving interoperability between free software and Microsoft’s products.

And, in fact, when we want to make a point about the value of the collaboration that free software allows programmers, we quote Bill Gates, from a 1989 interview: “[T]he best way to prepare [to be a programmer] is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. . . . You’ve got to be willing to read other people’s code, then write your own, then have other people review your code. You’ve got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the worldclass people to tell you what you are doing wrong . . .”

How do I impact any of this if I’m not a programmer?

Even non-programmer users, just by using free software, can make a real difference by asking for new features, pointing out problems, and making copies of the software to share with their friends. The free software community is incredibly good at taking advantage of these seemingly small contributions; developers are very eager to hear from people who are using their work and want to see it thrive. Even a small handful of demanding users can dramatically improve the quality of the free software they use. On a political and social scale, citizens can demand that governmental entities or their employers make the technology they use transparent by using free software (for instance, voters could demand, as, indeed, they already have, that voting machines only run free software).

How can community organizations, political groups take advantage of this?

Free software is intricately involved with a number of social goods that are increasingly under attack, ranging from consumer choice and the struggle against monopolies, to the distribution of creative and intellectual works, to the preservation of the creative and liberatory potential of the Internet, and the human right to communication. We hope our book will make these connections clear, and inspire thought about what sorts of political strategies will work best to preserve these goods. Another of our goals is to make the case to activists from a variety of struggles that tech activism, whether around free software, or privacy, or net neutrality, is an important factor in any fight — effecting change in the technological sphere has more and more to do with change in the “real world.”

Thanks, Samir & Scott.

New York Event: Left Out in the Open — The Netroots & Progressive Politics

March 4, 2008

This coming Wednesday, March 5th, yours truly will be joining a stellar panel of thinkers- and doers- in the netroots. Sponsored by the Nation Magazine and Moveon, “Left out in the Open” will explore how the netroots is transforming -for good and for bad- the left. I will try to hold my own in such smart, capable company. You are cordially invited to come to:

City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue (near 34th Street). The event starts at 6:30 and sounds like it’s going to fill up. Some come early, come all as many different colored beans we can cram in there.

See you there!

Left Out in the Open — The Netroots & Progressive Politics

This Nation event will convene progressive leaders and writers for a lively discussion of how the netroots are changing progressive politics. Participants will include Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor of The Nation; Zephyr Teachout, assistant professor of law, Duke University, and an architect of Howard Dean’s Internet strategy; Matt Stoller, a founding blogger of OpenLeft and President of BlogPAC; Roberto Lovato, a writer at New America Media and blogger for Of América; and Ari Melber, a correspondent for The Nation and a contributing editor at Personal Democracy Forum. The event is free of charge. Please arrive early. Takes place at CUNY Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue. The event starts at 6:30.

For more information, call (212) 209-5400 or click here or here.

Telcos, U.S. Government Collecting Phone Records of Thousands of Latinos and others Calling Latin América

December 17, 2007

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This article in yesterday’s New York Times (NYT) reports on how major telecommunications companies are helping U.S. intelligence agencies collect the phone records of thousands of citizens and non-citizens that call Mexico, Colombia and other Latin American countries. According to the report,

“To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified.”

The National Security Agency(NSA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other government agencies have been gathering the phone records for several years. News of the telecommunications industry-government collaboration is coming out now because Congress is currently considering legislation that will shield the companies from lawsuits stemming from their support of government eavesdropping.

Reports of U.S. government snooping on Latino and other citizens are nothing new. While the government has likely included Latinos in its intelligence gathering activities since such activities were organized by agencies like Herbert Hoover’s FBI, documentation of the snooping began in earnest only until relatively recently. As reported on this blog previously,

“While (Lyndon) Johnson was signing into law the official celebration of Latinos (Hispanic Heritage month) in 1968, he also signed documents authorizing the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program or “COINTELPRO” to give another big government abrazo (embrace) to the growing chorus of dissident Latino voices. Cesar Chavez, student groups, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords and those who yelled “Viva!” during the “Walkout” in Los Angeles were but a few of those greeted by COINTELPRO during that first year of Hispanic Heritage.”

What is new are the numerous and growing number of ways the private sector collaborates with and benefits from the electronic surveillance components of what critics call the “national security state” apparatus being built since before 9-11. Again, even the NYT article hints at the bigger issues when it says,

“But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.”

Further on, the article explains the technological reasons behind the government’s urgent need of telecommunications and other companies collaboration in designing the surveillance systems of the post-industrial age,

“The federal government’s reliance on private industry has been driven by changes in technology. Two decades ago, telephone calls and other communications traveled mostly through the air, relayed along microwave towers or bounced off satellites. The N.S.A. could vacuum up phone, fax and data traffic merely by erecting its own satellite dishes. But the fiber optics revolution has sent more and more international communications by land and undersea cable, forcing the agency to seek company cooperation to get access. “

As Peter Swire, former chief counselor for privacy at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under the Clinton administration, told me a couple of years ago, “We used to think of Big Brother as things like government wiretaps, where government is directly receiving the information”. “Today,” says Swire, “the datafeed doesn’t come from a government telescreen like in 1984. The datafeed now comes from your phone calls, your tax records, your bank transactions, your social security number, your grocery purchases, your insurance claims, your credit history, your medical records.” So, Latinos aren’t alone in this one.

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I’ve written previously on how these ongoing and expanding collaborations between government and the private sector in the network age make nakedly obvious the inadequacy of the industrial age”Big Brother” metaphor. At a time when digital technology has turned everyone from parents with camera-embedded teddy bears to world’s largest employers into snoopers and eavesdroppers, we should be talking not solely about “Big Brother” state surveillance but also about nano-cousins, Little Teddy’s, micro-brothers and other descendants of the now thoroughly dead surveillance systems depicted in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” in the analog era (see “Enemy of the State” to get a more contemporary sense of what decentralized surveillance looks and feels like). The private sector, not “Big Brother” is now the hands-down largest collector of information about human beings regardless of their legal status.

And Latino Immigrants and Latin migration provide another rationale for further investment in the covert gathering of information on citizens and non-citizens. Allegedly designed to “control” immigrants, laws like the REAL ID Act of 2005, for example, will end up creating what the Electronic Privacy and Information Center calls a “de facto national identification card” that will make rich companies like national ID cheerleader Larry Elllison’s Oracle even richer.  Last year, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe offered (and later “calirified”)to put microchips in seasonal workers coming to the U.S. Up until 2003, U.S.-based database company Choicepoint was selling the U.S. government the personal information of more than 65 million Mexicans. This year witnessed the further implementation of the multi-billion ($8 billion or more) electronic surveillance components of the Secure Borders Initiative (SBI) by military industrial companies like Boeing.

So, this recent report of U.S. government snooping on Latinos and others comes atop a colossal, growing mountain of private information about migrants, citizen and others. Find out more about the privacy policies of telcom and other companies you deal with because they just may be selling your privacy to the government or some other bidder.

IMMIGRATION DEBATE RAGING IN HIGH TECH LABS

October 31, 2007

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A couple of recent stories this week highlight how the immigration debate has given rise to both “reactionary” and pro-immigrant positions within the very immigrant-heavy high tech industry. This story titled “State of the Engineer: Immigration–The reactionary side of engineering” from the EE Times, a major electronics industry publication, makes clear that the country’s labs are hardly hermetically-sealed off from the greater ills of the larger society. A survey conducted by EE Times found that,

“On immigration, only 21.2 percent of respondents agreed with the idea of allowing an unlimited number of foreign engineers and technical professionals to work in America, and to work here without being asked to leave after a prescribed period of time (see chart below).

The remainder expressed the belief that either the number of foreign engineers should be restricted, or their time in America be restricted or both.”

But like the larger society, the countries labs are also home to many immigrants, an incresing number of whom find themselves having to raise their voices and placards in defense of their very existence. In another article published in today’s AP, I found this quote by a migrant tech worker particularly revealing of the future,

“I’ve never held a banner before, but I don’t know what else to do,” said Gopal Chauhan, a high-tech employee who has been waiting seven years for a green card. “We usually have better things to do, like invent the next iPod.”

And, in another quote illustrating how the Republican and, increasingly, Democrat short-term strategy of bashing migrants will result in economic blowback in the long-term, the the article states,

“The Indian and Chinese economies are being fed right now with people who get tired of waiting and go home,” Bhatia said.

The technological, scientific and immigration chickens are already coming home to roost.

THANK YOU FOR FLYING PROFILER AIRLINES: HOMELAND SECURITY TRACKS RACE, READING HABITS, ASSOCIATES OF AIRLINE PASSENGERS

September 20, 2007

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( Copy of document showing that Dept. Homeland Security tracks the race of travelers)

Documents obtained by privacy watchdog, the Identity Project (IP), reveal that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) keeps detailed records documenting such things as the race, reading habits, associates and other airline passenger data. The documents came to light as part of a Privacy Act request by IP and is included in a report titled “Homeland Security’s Data Vacuum Cleaner in Action”.

This part of the document shows the how DHS’s once-secret Automated Targeting Project kept records of books read by a passenger:

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And this part of another document reveals that they also monitor where travelers go even after deboarding and with whom:

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For further information on the important work of John Gilmore and the Identity Project you can visit their website at http://www.unsecureflight.com/.

Happy travels!

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: A NEW FRONTIER IN GLOBAL IMMIGRATION DEBATE

September 18, 2007

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(Racist pic of “Mexifornia” drivers license, a favorite of the anti-immigrant set)

Politicians and technologists of all stripes and in most countries are mining the global immigration crisis for opportunities to advance their agendas. This report in today’s BBC about a controversial new immigration proposal made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a case in point. According to the report, “… the legislation would demand the relatives take a DNA test to prove their applications were genuine.”

Sarkozy’s proposals are neither new nor solely a European innovation. Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, proposed taking DNA samples from undocumented federal detainees as a way to facilitate identifying and tracking potential terrorists. The ACLU and other critics of science and technology “solutions” view such proposals as a way of paving the path towards application of such technologies to the general populace. Shortly after 9-11, for example, Larry Ellison, head of software behemoth Oracle, offered to provide the government “free” (renewals and upgrades would cost billions) software for the creation of a national ID card. Some have even said that the National ID components of the recent immigration reform proposal are what actually killed it. REAL ID and other immigrant and technology proposals follow the same logic of using immigrants to advance political and business fortunes in the name of “combating terrorism”, “Homeland Security” and other now thoroughly normalized terms.

Time to fear what’s normal.