BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, anarchist, atheist who likes the letter A
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Total Information. Who Can You Trust?

April 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System, Politics

Uncle Sam is Watching YouMy roommate texted me the other night that she needed my social security number. She was doing her taxes via TurboTax and they wouldn’t let her file without it. In DC, there is a housing credit for which it is obvious that neither me nor my roommate are eligible. But TurboTax made us go through a whole bunch of questions that were supposedly necessary to assess our eligibility. The program asked for all household members and their social security numbers. I ditched TurboTax and went with H&R Block who didn’t ask me to share my roommates personal information with them.  

Just as I’m thinking about how infuriatingly accustomed we all are to giving information to government and/or private companies,  I get an email from the DC government informing me that it is time to get my REAL ID. Apparently, back in 2005, a national ID was snuck onto a piece of military spending legislation. I’m told that there was a bit of a stink when it happened. Many states, in fact, said they would refuse to participate. But it is slowly rolling out anyway.

So what is this REAL ID?

The federal government no longer wants the states to be able to determine their own rules for issuing drivers licenses. And while the feds cannot exactly force the states, they can make certain state IDs not usable for federal identification purposes. That means, for example, that your state ID could not be used to board a flight within the U.S. They say these new regulations are about anti-terrorism. But they are more about anti-immigration and about cataloging all of us for ease of future harassment and control.

What I and every other license holding resident of DC will need to do is go down to our local DMV with at least four pieces of identification that meet their standards. In my case, for example, I’ll have to go down there with my passport, social security number, apartment lease, and a bank statement. All of these items will be scanned and held in their system. I will also have my picture retaken and added to their facial recognition database. The ID that I will be issued must have a machine readable zone. Here is what the NYCLU had to say about that in this report they issued (p. 14).

Similar to a bar code, the machine-readable zone must contain minimum information to allow any entity with a reader to capture the data on a driver’s license. The Real ID Act mandates the following minimum information be included in the machine-readable zone: license expiration date, issuance date, state or territory of issuance, holder’s legal name, date of birth, gender, address, unique identification number, and inventory control number for the physical documents maintained by the state.

DHS has granted states the authority to add information to be contained in the machine readable zone, including biometric information, such as iris scans or fingerprints. DHS has decided that the personal information contained in the machine readable zone will not be encrypted, which means that it will be easily accessible to government agents and the private sector. Moreover, there is no prohibition on third party access to information contained in the machine-readable zone.

So basically the states can include iris scans, fingerprints, or pretty much any creepy thing they want and they cannot encrypt the information. Even if you are one of those people who trusts the government to compile limitless data on you, are you really o.k. with anyone you need to show your ID to having that information? There are already bars that scan people when they walk through the door. Do you trust every bar and gym and restaurant with your iris scan?

I’m not even going to entertain the arguments about needing this for our security. Nothing the government does is for our security. It is for their security at the cost of ours. If you want to read some of the arguments, then feel free to click through to the congressional testimony or this article from Bruce Schneier.

What I will do is ask people to imagine the kinds of abuses that could occur with a system that collects that much data about all of us in one place. Think of the number of people who will have access to my name, face, gender, dob, social, passport number, bank account, and address. In Ohio, they freaked out because they found out that 30,000 cops plus had unfettered access to DMV info with facial recognition. Multiply that times the fifty states. Police routinely abuse their access to information to harass, stalk, or murder citizens. Now we are just making it easier.

Do we really need to write yet again about the kind of files that the federal government has been collecting on activists from the beginning of time? Here is a handy summary of some of the more well known acts against us by our government.

What is it going to take for people to stop rolling over and start asking why it is o.k. for us to be cataloged by a cooperating cabal of government and private agencies?

 

Identity, Decolonization, and Justice

April 15, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Change, Violence

Anti-Colonial Anarchism or Decolonization

A friend of mine posted this to facebook. One of the commenters asked how far back we are supposed to go.

The thing about colonization, land grabs, genocide, slavery, gentrification – whatever manifestation of deciding you want something from people and just taking it – is that erasure is a key component. Which means the people that can go the farthest back are the people who are writing the wrong history.

A few years ago there was a post on Womanist Musings about how she could not trace her family history because she is the descendant of slaves. I also cannot trace my history. I am adopted and information about my biological relations is not available to me. My adopted family has a trail that ends in the holocaust or the pogrom. Who knows where all those wandering Jews wandered/were exiled from.

Getting to the origin of things is impossible. But we should still try. Because if you think about how hard oppressors have worked to destroy the histories of people, then you know just how important it is to protect and resurrect as much of it as you can. There is a reason why the Spanish destroyed the codices.

But when it comes to seeking justice, it is the present that is the most important thing.

The thing about this graphic, and the post that went with it, is that it is so easy to interpret it as referring to family history rather than current power imbalances. The history of one Spanish descended person in South America is not the important thing. The important thing is the unequal power of that descendant in the here and now. The important thing is the wealth that was extracted and continues to be extracted. They are injustices that have roots in history, but would still be problematic if they were new.

I agree that roots are important. I agree that we should be undoing our collective mindfuck – whether that is reclaiming indigenous beliefs or coming up with new ones. But identity and history are incredibly complicated. How do the principles outlined in this graphic get applied when the Cherokee nation decides to expel the descendants of black slaves who took the trail of tears with them?

For me the question is always about what is happening right now. What is most important to address right now? Who is suffering right now? What is the history that got us here, in all of its complexity, and how do we stop the bleeding?

Drop the Faux Condi Controversy Already

April 10, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Rice at Augusta Golf ClubThe internets are up in arms that Dropbox has named Condoleezza Rice to their board.

What the hell is the point?

Newsflash. Companies are “led” by awful people. I have written before about working for Duane Andreas of Archer Daniels Midland, whose food you certainly consume. Do you eat Kraft? (Check yes if you chow those veggie boca burgers.) Well their board has a Nike exec on it. Do you buy sweatshop shit from Nike? Well, they have a Starbucks exec on their board. Like a little Starbucks? They have former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the guy who blocked the release of torture photos. Own an apple product? Say hello to defense contractor and lethal laser weapon maker Northrop Grumman.

Why are you wasting energy on the character of one or two board members or CEOs or other social climbing fuckwads?  

We have a systemic problem. Our problem is anybody who wants to be on the board of one of these companies. Our problem is that we nearly cannot live without giving our time and money and bits of our soul to these horrible people. Our problem is that these organizations are built on our backs. They poison you. They spy on you. They steal from you. And then a few of them make a donation or come out in favor of some bullshit cause and people think, “Awww.  Well that one doesn’t seem so bad.”

They are bad. The system is bad. It is rotten to the core. The fact that some of these climbers support gay marriage or hire black people or know enough not to say anything too offensive in public does not change things. In fact, I would rather have all the companies run by people like Condoleezza Rice. It is more honest that way. When the woman who went shoe shopping while New Orleans drowned is the face of things, it is harder to pretend that things aren’t evil.

Rice wanted success on the terms that people who appoint board members define. That picture of her is from Augusta national. She has no problem joining a club that excluded women until 2012 and excluded black people until 1990.

Well, congrats to Condi and all the other people who spent their lives pursuing power and money and attained it. Congrats to stepping on whoever you needed to in order to get what you want. Now to those of us who would like to think we actually want a world with different values, how about we start getting as serious as they are? Meaning how about we stop getting distracted by measuring the relative horribleness of the owners/climbers and focus on the system itself.

Things You Might Have Missed

March 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Not one more deportationI have to start these posts again, because I keep losing track of articles and it is a pain in the ass to find them again on twitter.  So here goes.

If you did not catch this Ta-Nehisi Coates post about how “progressives” deny white supremacy and structural racism, read it. Coates says they “misunderstand.” I think its more than misunderstanding. At the very least, we should call it willful ignorance. But he’s way nicer than me.

More hunger strikes. Now they are coming from immigrant detention centers in Takoma and Texas. Both owned by The GEO Group.

As I was arguing with my fellow jurors the last few weeks, one of them brought up the changes that will occur because of the new DC marijuana laws. But I tend to agree with the folks in this interview that it won’t do a damn thing to help the black kids being picked up for street selling. They won’t be getting licenses to sell legally.

If we cannot get people to care about the record number of exonerated last year and what they go through once they get out, how much more impossible to get people to care about those who actually did do something violent?

Really, in order to get people to care about the people in prison, we have to get them to care about the poor and the mentally ill. But even when people hear about the bipolar woman who was locked up for more than two years without charges or the homeless vet who baked to death in Rikers, they still don’t want to face how fucked up things are. I guess nobody wants to think about the fact that poverty or mental illness could happen to them too.

Here is another thing that came out so clearly in jury duty. People really believe that everything is scientific. They were expecting ballistics reports and DNA. Instead they got unreliable witnesses and sloppy police work. Not that it mattered. Even without bullshit experts or real evidence, people were happy to indict.

Part of the problem is how much people want to believe police, despite all the reasons police have to lie and the long history of them being caught in those lies.

I am still turning over in my head how the people in jury duty could have the racial disparities staring them in the face every day and not have a problem with it. Speaking of disparities, did you know that “Native Americans make up little more than 1 percent of the nation’s population” but “at any given time, 43 percent to 60 percent of juveniles held in federal custody were Native American”?

And finally, since being in jury duty made me despair for humanity, I will end with this post about Kitty Genovese. She was the woman attacked in Queens in 1964 and whose case became proof that New Yorkers just didn’t give a shit. Supposedly, all these people heard her attack and did nothing. But that turns out to be mostly bullshit.

 

Book Review – One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter

March 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

One Game at a Time: Why Sports MatterOne Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter by Matt Hern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book so unexpectedly much. It is a delightfully philosophical and down to earth critique of and defense of sports.

Hern pushes back on the idea that sports are a different and lesser kind of cultural product – as opposed to, perhaps, music or painting. Like all of our cultural products, sports both reflect and create our society. And we should take that seriously. He also argues that “a generalized disrespect for sports, athletes, physicality, and even materiality is not just a class thing it’s also bound up with race, gender, sexuality, and lots else – creating a clusterfuck of bodily loathing, fear, guilt, shame, distrust, and misapprehension.”

The book uses sports to talk about all of those things and more – race, gender, sexuality, capitalism, authenticity, violence, pain, cultural appropriation, the commons. It is amazing how much he managed to pack into a relatively short book.

A long time ago I had a boss who didn’t have a television when her daughter was little. My response was to ask what her kid spoke to the other kids at school about. She answered that that was precisely why they eventually got a television. I think Hern makes a strong case for sports on many levels, not just as a means for communicating with the millions of avid fans and participants out there. But just the opportunity for public discourse alone should convince people to take it seriously.

Read it. Really. It is fantastic.

View all my reviews

The Classism and Ignorance of Liberals

March 17, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

This photo came from “Being Liberal” on Facebook. My friend posted it with some comments about how problematic it is for liberals to denigrate the rural poor who are then scooped up by the republican party. But I am going to be waaaay more harsh.

I am so tired of liberal/democratic/progressive classism.

What is your evidence that the democratic party is so great for poor people? You know who are in prison right now? Poor people. You know who put a whole lot of them there? Democrats like Bill Clinton, “the incarceration president.” When one of the political parties suggests dismantling the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, you let me know.

All this voting “against your economic interest” is a load of crap.

Poor people vote in far fewer numbers than rich people. And it so happens that Kentucky, the state being bashed here, has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Sometimes people don’t vote because they have been permanently disenfranchised due to their incarceration. (Kentucky has the 6th highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.) Sometimes they don’t vote because they cannot get to the poll. Sometimes they don’t vote because they don’t have ID. Sometimes they don’t vote because they know it won’t make a damn bit of difference in their everyday lives.

Anyone who wants to point out that the poorest states are republican should be slapped in the face with a list of the states that have the largest income inequality. My home, the resolutely democratic DC, is at the top of the inequality list. It is followed by New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And the inequality is only getting worse. Where’s that voting against your economic interest nonsense now? Or are you proud that the rich people in your state/city earn so much that average income figures hide the hideous poverty of the people who clean the houses and mow the lawns of the elite?

If the only thing that you are considering when you vote is your own economic interest then you are a complete asshole. When I make decisions in my life, I make them based on my values and conscience. I don’t make them based on how much money will be in my bank account. (If you need proof, look no farther than my bank balance.) For a whole lot of you, voting your “economic interest” really means protecting your privilege.

In my experience, the people who post pictures like this have almost never been to the “fly over” states or bothered to speak to the people who live there. Their ideas of the rural, white poor come from media coverage – which is apparently oh so accurate when it comes to this one group of society. Or maybe they are just watching bad television that uses “hicks” as the villains because it is a socially acceptable meme.

If you haven’t seen or experienced something for yourself, you should really hold your judgement. Reading a study about a community does not make you knowledgeable. It is not o.k. to dismiss people as ignorant because they don’t have a degree or because they go to church. It is not o.k. if we are talking about poor, indigenous people in Bolivia. It is not o.k if we are talking about poor, white people in Kentucky.

The truth is that liberal, “educated” people need the low-class, ignorant hick meme. So long as they exist to denigrate, nobody has to acknowledge that racism, classism, and sexism are systemic and will require a complete upheaval of the systems that give so many liberals the privileges they currently enjoy. As was pointed out so well in the comments of this post, when a lot of white liberals say “racist,” what they usually mean is low-class.

Our problems are not going to be resolved through party politics. They sure as hell aren’t going to be resolved by shitting all over people you have never met. In fact, I would think a prerequisite to democracy would be actually speaking to the other people involved.

Perhaps, if people stopped being such ignorant snobs, they would find out that there is a whole lot of knowledge, mutual aid, and radical thinking that they are totally missing out on. Maybe the people who want to save themselves from mountaintop removal use Christian langauge in West Virginia. Maybe some of the biggest cooperatives serve the needs of (oh my gosh) republicans in the south. Does that make those efforts worthless?

Maybe we all have a lot to learn.

/end rant

Book Review – Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther

March 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black PantherMarshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall “Eddie” Conway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coincidentally, I finished reading Eddie Conway’s book on March 4th, the day he was finally released from prison after 44 years. I’m still thinking about it. I’m particularly thinking about how bad we are at learning from other people’s experiences and how much even one man’s story has to teach us.

Change takes risk and sacrifice. Eddie Conway lost his freedom for 44 years. He isn’t alone. Others lost their lives to violence or sometimes to just plain giving up. And there are other sacrifices. Sometimes it isn’t clear that they are worth it. For instance, Conway talks about being absent from the lives of his children. It wasn’t just because of prison. He was absent before prison because he was always busy with the movement.

Community support is fundamental. The Black Panthers obtained the support of their community in Baltimore by providing free breakfasts to children and setting up a community health clinic. In prison, the group Conway was involved with remained popular across divisions because they always advocated for the benefit of all the prisoners.

Success is the seed of your destruction. The more successful you are, the more you will become a target of the state. That is especially true if you provide services to the community that the state is not. The state will do anything to destroy you. The state will lie. The state will spy. The state will falsely imprison and kill. Even widespread community support cannot save an organization that the state is determined to destroy.

Information is essential. Even with community support, a media narrative can take off. Even die-hard supporters could start to doubt. One of the most successful prison rebellions involved prisoners who climbed up to windows where they could grab the attention of the community. Once the people most affected are allowed to speak, people see the truth. But the media is designed to create the white noise that drowns those people out.

Movements eat themselves. The image of the Black Panthers that was sold by the media attracted the kind of people who were easy targets for agent provocateurs. Anarchists have that same problem. We need to find ways to be disciplined in our organizations and to deal with the fact that agents will always be among us. We also need to deal with well-meaning but overzealous, unstrategic, and destructive people who help the state to discredit us.

I started this off by saying how bad we are at learning from other’s experiences. What I was specifically thinking about was Green is the New Red. It is a great book in many ways. But what made me furious was that the young, white kids involved seemed utterly shocked at the level of oppression that came down on them for their actions. I don’t know how anyone who had read even a page of history could have been shocked. I don’t think anyone should be taking actions – especially very confrontational actions – without understanding what they are getting into.

So read some history and know what you are facing. Conway’s book is a good place to start.

View all my reviews

Book Review – The SCUM Manifesto

March 12, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

SCUM ManifestoSCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Take a girl with an anti-authoritarian streak and a history of abuse. Stir in a little 50s and 60s art and counter-culture. Add some pre-queer queerness. Top with a generous dollop of power analysis and bitterness. And, what the hell, why not a dark sense of bitchy (possible) humor? That’s The SCUM manifesto.

In Michelle Tea’s intro to this book, she accuses those of us who don’t find the manifesto hilarious as totally lacking in senses of humor. I found the book mildly amusing. So I guess I just have an inadequate sense of humor. That said, Solanas’s critiques of society aren’t exactly wrong – even if her certainty that men are completely irredeemable doesn’t come across as a mere literary device.

It isn’t like I am going to argue with her about the uselessness of our government, academia, high culture, or any of the arbiters of those institutions. Her critique of hippies and communes were probably the most amusing to me. And then there is this:

Dropping out is not the answer; fucking-up is. Most women are already dropped out; they were never in. Dropping out gives control to those few who don’t drop out; dropping out is exactly what the establishment leaders want; it plays into the hands of the enemy; it strengthens the system instead of undermining it, since it is based entirely on the nonparticipation, passivity, apathy, and non-involvement of the mass of women.

It isn’t exactly new to hear critiques of dropping out. I’ve heard similar arguments from people who are aggravated that I don’t vote. What is interesting about Solanas is that she doesn’t want to march or be involved with movements either. Her people will undertake only criminal enterprises. Her people will “unwork” by taking jobs and giving stuff away for free until they get fired. They will take over buses and radio stations. They will do only the criminal.

Which reminds me of a quote that appeals to me a lot these days.

The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can force it to change. – Samuel R. Delaney

Solanas shot Andy Warhol. She was in and out of institutions. She had some major problems. But it is precisely those people who cannot make it in our society that we need to pay attention to. They are the ones diagnosing our failures.

One final thought about this book. Sometimes profound thoughts come from people who are hard to take. It is the flip side of how sociopaths are so charming that nobody believes they could be mass murderers or child abusers. I don’t like Solanas. But when I get past my dislike and the vitriol, there are some things worth contemplating.

View all my reviews

Some Thoughts on Violence, Self Defense, and Consent

March 11, 2014 By: Mel Category: Violence

Nikita TV Show trainingYou can’t be amongst radicals for more than 9 seconds without getting into a discussion about whether or not people should use violence or whether or not property destruction is violence.

As I’ve said before, I think people who are very good at violence and cruelty are usually not so great at building a new and just society. As for property destruction being violent, the answer is…sometimes. Is it violence when the army comes and burns down an entire village leaving people homeless and hungry? Fuck yes. Is it violence when there is a controlled explosion of a building so that something new can take its place? Of course not.

I have been against war since I was old enough to understand what it was. As a kid, I thought pacifist only meant being against war (which is still how some people define it).  And let me tell you, of all the things I have identified as over the years, that seems to be the one that pisses the most people off. Naturally, it makes me want to continue using it.

But as much as I love pissing people off, it makes me crazy when people equate pacifism with offering yourself up as a sacrificial lamb. If I had a nickel for every time someone responded by suggesting that I thought the person getting attacked in an alley should just sit there and die, I could take that bag of nickels and beat the crap out of them with it.

People have the right to defend themselves. The fact that so many people, especially women, end up in prison for defending themselves is unconscionable. But the tricky thing is that people are not usually attacked in an alley by a stranger. They are hurt by people they know. They are hurt by people they love. They are hurt by the people who they are often hesitant to hurt back. The kind of self-defense people usually refer to when talking about gun ownership or critiquing a wrong-headed view of pacifism does nothing to address the majority of rapes, assaults, child abuse…

When people are attacked by strangers, those attacks don’t always result in bloody noses or the need for a rape kit. The trail from perpetrator to victim is often murky. When a multinational company poisons the water, it may eventually end in deaths. But how do we self defend against that kind of thing? Self defense usually means imminent danger. (Unless of course you are a U.S. president. Then you get to define self-defense as a preemptive invasion.)

So the really clear cases of immediate violence are often perpetrated by people close to us and who we may not be inclined to punish severely because we see them as human beings.  In contrast, some of the most destructive kinds of violence are difficult to defend against because of distance – between perpetrator/victim and often between the act and its result. It is easy for some company who poisons the water to claim they didn’t know what they were doing. It is much more difficult to make an imminent danger defense when the crime is bureaucratic instead of in your face violent.

One of the many books I have been reading while on jury duty is Matt Hern’s One Game at a Time. (I’ll write more about it later. It’s fantastic). In it, Hern pushes back against the idea that sports – even fighting – are violent, saying that “violence is coercive by definition.” He also says:

The key pivot in identifying violence is agreement. Not unlike various forms of sexual activity (say BDSM, for example), physical contact, collisions, and even bodily damage is not violence if consent is present. There are any number of physical, aggressive, damaging, risky, and painful activities that we willingly and happily participate in that are not violence.

Seeing violence as coercion clarifies things a lot. It explains why that village being burned down is violent and the building destruction is not. It may even get at that multinational that poisoned the water. If the people didn’t want them there to begin with, then it is violence from the start. Of course it may be that the company arrived with promises of benefits. And that is where things get complicated. Because then we really have to start talking about consent.

What if a community consents to the destruction of their environment because of economic realities outside of their control? Can a person ever consent to working in a sweatshop given the sociopolitical circumstances in which any decisions happen? How does a community give consent if there is no consensus? How old does a person have to be to give consent? How neurologically typical does a person have to be to give consent? Do we err on the side of agency even if it means people may die?

These are some of the things one thinks about as you sit in a grand jury hearing about murders, rapes, child abuse… Horrific acts where the victimized go on to victimize others. A massive criminal injustice institution built for bureaucratic and sanitized violence. Very little questioning or thinking by the participants or those judging them. Holding some individuals solely responsible for acts that their social situation pushed them towards. Holding other individuals as helpless victims without agency.

 

Why Are There No Mom Jokes?

March 07, 2014 By: Mel Category: Culture

Ad for Home Improvement TV ShowI’m working on ten bazillion posts that will not be ready for a bit. But in the meantime a possibly irrelevant, but possibly not, question has occurred to me.

If I say a “dad joke,” most of you know exactly what I mean. Many of us had fathers who told really corny jokes and thought they were hilarious. I feel like a disproportionate amount of them were puns. There are even tumblrs for dad jokes. But when I googled mom jokes, all I got were Yo Mamma jokes. Particularly popular seem to be the “yo momma so fat” jokes. So we get to hate on mothers/women and fat people.  Always good to multitask. Ahem.

I started thinking about television shows. Granted, I am hardly an expert. I barely watch t.v. One of my friends has actually been known to apologize to me when group conversations inevitably turn to television talk. But from those shows I do remember, or have caught a piece of, the mom is always the serious one – sometimes even a curmudgeon.

The Cosby Show. Home Improvement. Everybody Loves Raymond.

What’s up with that? How come being a mom has to mean being humorless – or at least less humorous. Except for I Love Lucy, I can’t actually recall a show with a different dynamic. So all you television watchers out there need to help me out. Is there a whole bunch of t.v. that I am not picking up on or are we culturally trained by birth to think dads get to be goofy and moms have to rein in all the fun?