The July 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Corruption at Oakland Housing Authority

Shot Through the Heart in S.F.

Legal Challenge to Cruel Attacks on SF Homeless

GRIP's Shelter in Richmond

HUD Plans to Demolish Public Housing in New Orleans

Fresno Homeless Attacked

Stonewalling by Bush's ICH on Homeless Issues

Are We Not Our Brother's Keeper

Congress Refuses to Raise the Minimum Wage

Beyond Prisons: Challenge to the Prison System

Penal Servitude

The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap

Poor Working Conditions for Immigrants

AFSC Sues Defense Dept. for Surveillance

Surveillance and Orwell's 1984

Enron's Good Fight

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Self-Realization

July Poetry of the Streets

Child Slavery on African Cocoa Farms

The Worth of Education in the Phillipines


ARCHIVES

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Government Surveillance Creates an Orwellian Society

by Jack Bragen

Big Brother polices the citizens, just as George Orwell warned in 1984, his revealing look at a police state. Tiffany Sankary art

Increasing surveillance by the government, working in league with large corporations and telecommunication companies, is one tell-tale indication of an Orwellian society, and it is not the only warning sign. Other signs include the general deterioration of people's ability to reason and think independently; a "wartime society" in which the war never stops; extreme patriotism that pressures everyone to unthinkingly cheer for the home state; and the state's reliance on extreme punishment, in which disobedience is met with torture.

All these symptoms of a totally controlled and regimented society are described in George Orwell's book, 1984. Do the warning signs sound familiar?

Everything U.S. residents do is now recorded or documented and is available for retrieval by the government. The exceptions to this omnipresent surveillance are so minor as to be inconsequential, such as going to the refrigerator for a snack; perhaps refrigerators are one of the few electronic devices not yet monitored.

But look at the rest of our lives. When we change the channel on our TV cable box, this information can be stored in a database somewhere. When we dial a phone number, this information is recorded by the phone company; and recently, nearly all the major phone companies readily turned over data on the phone calls of countless U.S. citizens to the National Security Agency. Orwell was right in warning us that governments would resort to round-the-clock surveillance.

When we swipe our debit card, it leaves a digital trail. When our face shows up on a video camera at a convenience mart, we are then recorded. The products we buy at the grocery store are scanned at the register and leave data that goes into a computer somewhere that can be retrieved.

Someone knows what brand of hot dogs you buy, and what books and magazines you read. They know what programs you watch. They know what phone numbers you dial. They know where you buy your gas. They know what personal hygiene products you use. This is all true even for those who do not use a computer.

The personal computer is the greatest tool yet for spying on us. People put their personal data and financial information on computers, write to friends and families, discuss their political beliefs, and record all manner of important, personal information. All of it is available to those who have access to our computer data.

There is spyware that infects virtually all computers; some of it is addressed by anti-spyware software, and some is ignored. Computer operating systems are so complex that the average person does not comprehend the nature of the deep files that make the computer operate the way it does. This is deliberate, so that the domain of computer operating systems could be reserved exclusively to those who design them and want to keep making money off them.

The U.S. transportation system is ideal for an Orwellian state. You can't go anywhere without being tracked. If you want to drive across the country, you have to buy gasoline somewhere. This means that your face will show up on video cameras at gas stations, and your card will be swiped at gas station pumps on your way. In addition, more cities are installing surveillance cameras at many intersections.

If you want to take the train, you buy a ticket, and this goes on the computer. If you travel by plane, we already know the amount of searching you are subjected to these days. Any travel you undertake, therefore, can be known about by the government, unless you are a hitchhiker.
Not surprisingly, subway riders in New York City are now subject to being searched at random. The subway had been one of the last venues of transportation in which you would not be tracked.

Perhaps the thing that is most Orwellian about our society is that citizens are willing participants to being spied upon by the government. It is not merely a case of "putting up" with surveillance. We seem to find it normal and necessary. Some people just have too much love for authority. For many, this growing surveillance does not seem outrageous or abnormal. We are trained to be apathetic about it. This is also Orwellian.

If we were outraged about the Bush administration's wiretapping scandal and about surveillance in general, then our society could become less Orwellian. But at present, there is far too much passive consent for governmental spying.


Harmful Effects of Economic Violence

by Jack Bragen

I have been in situations of being beaten up physically in a fistfight, or physically threatened by bigger people before. Actually this used to happen to me a fair amount. It doesn't happen anymore because somehow I have learned how to stay out of those situations. It is a scary thing to be threatened with physical violence by a "criminal," or even beaten up, or physically abused. It can leave one with emotional scars that take a long time to heal. With time, much of the pain has healed. I have learned strategies for generally avoiding those situations.

Most of the public believes that physical violence is one of the most horrible things and that people should be locked up for it and punished. Maybe so. But what about economic violence? Physical violence is plain to see when someone assaults another person. Economic violence is hidden behind the walls of tall buildings, shielded by the heavy doors to conference rooms, and concealed in data banks. There is less compassion in many big businesses than there is in many prisons. Decisions are made that affect thousands upon thousands of human lives, animals and the environment.

When someone knowingly saves money on a car design that is deadly, that is economic violence. When someone sacrifices the health and well-being of a community by polluting it, for their personal gain, that is a crime. When an economy locks out certain people from having economic opportunity, so that they have no hope to climb out of poverty, that is violence. When federal officials cut federal housing programs year after year, and people inevitably become homeless, that is economic violence.

Violence doesn't always look mean and angry, like a criminal assailant. Sometimes violence looks like a man in an office with spectacles, a stack of papers and a computer.


Moneyism: Another Form of Prejudice

Money is the god of many people in our society. If you don't have much money, you are worthless in their eyes.

by Jack Bragen

I am finding increasingly, as time goes by, that I am treated with less respect in public, compared to how many other people are treated. This is interesting because, as far as I know, I am among strangers who know nothing of my background as a mentally ill person or a person with alternative views. I doubt it is a matter of anti-Semitism.

I think people can tell by looking at me that I probably do not earn $50,000 per year. My clothes are not "dress casual," or those of an executive on his day off. My clothes are those of a poor person trying to look presentable. My grooming and haircut is not superb, as though I were about to go to a power lunch with business associates.

When my wife and I went to a car rental place, we were discriminated against because of moneyism. We were made to wait until other customers were finished who had actually come in afterward. The service was mysteriously bad toward us and wonderful for other customers. The employees were unapologetic.

At an upscale department store, the shopping environment was nice. (I went there with my wife.) However the attitude of the clerks appeared to be that we didn't belong in their store. The clerks seemed to stare at us without saying anything. I went out the front door several times to smoke and heard a little beep on each pass, as if a camera were taking my picture.
It appears that money is the god of many people in our society. If you don't have much money, you are worthless in the eyes of these people.

Fortunately, there are a lot of people who work hard in life who don't have this attitude. People do exist who accept me because I am a decent person. And those people, in turn, are acceptable to me.


A Resurgence of Racism in the U.S.

by Jack Bragen

Racism is alive and well in the United States. Our nation is undergoing a resurgence of racism, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1960s and before. Racism may have declined somewhat towards affluent African Americans because African American people have stood up over the years in protest and said they are not going to take it. In modern times, most white persons would never openly admit being racist against black people. Doing so would leave one open to the label of "racist" -- and rightly so.

The modern trend is racism against Latino people and Arabs. It is promoted and sponsored by our government and is disguised as protecting the country. We are on the verge of a scary situation in which it may be criminal to associate with a Spanish-speaking person. We do not always know for sure if the person might possibly be an "illegal" immigrant. This will create a situation of extreme oppression for all Americans. I cannot overstate how oppressive this law will be.

We also have racism against Arabs in which Americans are taught to believe that they are terrorists and enemies of the country. The treatment that the media gives to the Islamic community is intended to make us afraid. In fact, people of Arab descent are people too. The media would have us believe otherwise.

What we now have is racism without admitting that it is racism. We are brainwashed into thinking that somehow racism doesn't exist that much anymore in our country. In fact, things are probably as bad as they were in the 1950s, but with different minorities being singled out for persecution.


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