Category Archives: Regular Features

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Generation Serf, part 1

The growth of virtual communities and new models of collaboration ties in directly with Generation C – the generation that wants an active hand in creating its own future. First identified by Trendwatching.com in 2004, Generation C refers to a generation of content creators who are just as comfortable creating content (blogs, videos, wiki entries) as they are consuming it.

Trendwatching said the C stood for content; Oxford-trained anthropologist Jake Pearce (www.jakepearce.com) disagreed. He saw content as the symptom, not the cause, and sought to explain Generation C by their motivation. His hypothesis: it’s about control.

In this light the icon of Generation C is the iPod, with its ability to create your own playlist. Why, Gen C asks, can we create our own playlist of music, but not our own playlist of other parts of our lives? For example, careers, education, government, banking. Why can’t these services by customized and tweaked to an individual’s specific preferences?

Simon Young, “Power of Integration” in The Social Media MBA, ed Christer Holloman (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2012)

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin…

All generations want an active hand in creating their own future. Generation C is no different in this regard.  Everyone wants to be able to shape their destiny.  Where Generation C differs – if and to the extent that it does differ – is in how precisely it views that activity of shaping its own future.  And the answer that is offered up is basically… the iPod.  Shaping their own future is, for Generation C, equivalent to creating a playlist for their iPod.  To making a list of commercial music, either bought online from an extremely wealthy company, or perhaps illegally pirated from an overpriced CD, and listening to that list on an overpriced, heavily restricted piece of hardware, assembled under undersafe conditions by underpaid overseas workers in a globalized economic order designed to minimize workers’ rights while maximizing corporate profits. Shaping your future means consuming this as opposed to that.  Lady Gaga or Mumford & Sons.  Or maybe just which you consume first, which you consume second.

Playlists are an excellent example of the false freedoms and choices that are meant to substitute for genuine choice, to distract people from their increasing lack of ability to shape their future, their increasing lack of freedom. To be clear, for most people throughout history, freedom, choice, the ability to shape their own future, to have control over their own destiny, have been severely constrained. But… in the conditions that arose, in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world in the years after the start of the Great Depression, and especially after World War II, we grew accustomed to a different state of affairs.

Part of that new state of affairs was a massive expansion of consumption. And over time, we’ve become more a consumer society than a producer society. An immensely wealthy consumer society, awash in goods. The rise in consumption was part of a general rise in quality of life and economic well-being in the years from the end of WWII until 1979: a major expansion of the middle class, very high levels of college education and home ownership, health insurance and health care, literacy, declines in infant mortality, stable employment. To people coming out of the shtetls, out of the Great Depression, out of the rural post-slavery of the south, all of that look like freedom, felt like freedom.

Peace and prosperity – for most, particularly white males, and leaving aside such blips as the Korean War and various police actions and armed foreign policy adventures. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you prefer the older, original formulation).

This was the heyday of the American Dream. People moved out of tenements and into suburban homes with lawns and washing machines. They bought cars. Everyone’s kids went to high school, and huge numbers went to university, often the first in their families to do so.  Those kids graduated, got jobs, and started doing better than their parents.  And they expected it to last. We all expected it to last. This was foolish, and quiescent. We were wrong.

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I wonder what it will take for my city to rise

Ani DiFranco, “Subdivision” – from Revelling/Reckoning

For more…

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New Forms of Hacktivism: Pinterest, Twitter and IFTTT

With the various successes – and antics – of hackers identifying as “Anonymous,” hacktivism is very much on people’s minds these days. I’ve written before about Hacktivism (here, here, and here). Hacking is widely associated with breaking into computer systems (illegal), and more recently also with various forms of modifying or altering physical objects, particularly electronics, to get them to do non-standard things.  But as Wikipedia makes clear, “hacktivism” is a more general concept than just activist-oriented hacking of these kinds:

Hacktivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism) is the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends. The term was first coined in 1996 by a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective named Omega. If hacking as “illegally breaking into computers” is assumed, then hacktivism could be defined as “the use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends”. These tools include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, typosquatting and virtual sabotage. If hacking as “clever computer usage/programming” is assumed, then hacktivism could be understood as the writing of code to promote political ideology: promoting expressive politics, free speech, human rights, and information ethics through software development. Acts of hacktivism are carried out in the belief that proper use of code will be able to produce similar results to those produced by regular activism or civil disobedience. (via Hacktivism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

I’ve been thinking about – and acting on – that wider definition of hacktivism as “the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends” and I wanted to share with you some of my ideas and actions.

Pinterest seems to me to be, mostly, little more than a huge catalog with ads. Lots of images of things to buy; it’s no mistake that one of the default categories is “Products I Love”.  The whole category list is built primarily around selling and advertising. Where is the category for news? for politics or current events?

And of course a huge percentage of the pins are just pictures of products with links to where they can be bought.  When they aren’t essentially catalog entries (this beautiful dress, that pair of shoes), they are ads (“lose weight now”) or perhaps links to recipes; I haven’t followed that many pins as it gets depressing.  It’s like one big supermarket checkout magazine – though thankfully with fewer pictures of Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.

Admittedly, there is a growing trend of pining images of nature, art, inspirational quotes, humor and photography on Pinterest that is most welcome (unlike the persistent internet meme of “cute cats” which also has a growing pin presence), but I think we can do more with the site.  I think we can hack Pinterest – or at least engage in some hacktivism there.

Post pictures of Occupy protests. Make and post text images with facts on injustice and inequality, on the threat of climate change, on corruption, or with your favorite quotes from Malcolm X or Emma Goldman or Marx or Noami Wolf or Noam Chomsky.  Take pictures of your squat or community garden and start a Pinterest board called “Squats” or “Collectivism” or “A Better Way of Life” or “Another World is Possible.”

Make and “pin” composite photos showing slums on one side and Rodeo Drive on the other, or garbage dumps and Walmart, or a homeless person and a banker.  You get the idea.

Apart from its conspicuous consumption, Pinterest is also overwhelming white, middle-class, able bodied and heterosexual. Diversify!  The first time I posted an image of two women kissing, I got a complaining comment from a woman who said her granddaughter used the site and she didn’t want her exposed to things like that. Expose! Be there, be queer, help them get used to it.  Even Mitt Romney’s political advisers are backing down on the gay issue.

Twitter is also fertile ground for hacktivism of this sort. Recently, a progressive group posted a petition on one of those Change/Move/etc. petition sites concerning some minor reform at Domino’s Pizza. But even leaving aside how awful their pizza is, Domino’s is a nightmare.  The founder is notoriously anti-choice and anti-gay, and the company is now almost wholely owned by your friendly neighborhood vulture capitalists, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which bought 93% of the company in 1998. And it is rabidly Republican:

The Domino’s Pizza political action committee gave $26,500 to federal candidates in the 05/06 election period – 0% to Democrats and 100% to Republicans. David A. Brandon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Domino’s personally gave $37,265 to Republicans ($0 to Democrats) in this same period. (via Domino’s Pizza – SourceWatch.)

So rather than sign some no doubt well-intentioned petition to reform some aspect of this company, I went onto TweetDeck and created a quick list for any tweet mentioning Domino’s, and then replied to those tweets with my own, saying things like “Dominos is anti-choice, anti-gay and 100% Republican” and linking to the SourceWatch article.

In fact, one could automate this kind of hacktivist tweet – and other online / social media hactivist actions – through the new IFTTT service (“If This Then That”). Using something like this “recipe”, you could set up an automated response to tweets mentioning Domino’s, or whatever.  Set up a new target every day, or week.

If you can get a whole group on board, you might add some sort of hashtag hacktivism as well, and try to get something positive and/or provocative trending. Be creative. Would #JustinBeiberHatesDominos trend?  You’ll never know until you try.

Ivy: Homeless in San Francisco – a YA novel

In this empathetic tale of hope, understanding, and the importance of family, readers face the difficult issue of poverty and the many hardships of being homeless through an inspiring young heroine named Ivy. Ivy is the story of a young girl who finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco when she and her father, Poppy, are evicted from his artist loft.

Struggling to survive day to day, Ivy and Poppy befriend a dog who takes them to the ramshackle home of quirky siblings Eugenia and Oscar Orr, marking the start of some amazing adventures. Blending a spoonful of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist with a dash of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and a few pinches of the Adventures of Lassie, Ivy’s tale will appeal to young readers as well as give adults material to discuss with children.

“Lolitas, Oliver Twists and Huckleberry Finns live on, and now, Ivy’s tale of hope lives right alongside them.” —Robin Clewly, San Francisco Chronicle

Available from PM Press, Powell’s or Amazon.com.

Upcoming Conference: From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change

From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change
16th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality, October 17 – 20, 2012, WZB

The Irmgard Coninx Foundation, a non-profit-organization founded in Munich in 2001, organizes an annual Roundtable on Transnationality, held in Berlin. The Roundtables provide a forum for international young academics and journalists to discuss the political and social challenges facing a global civil society. This year’s Roundtable is “From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change”

The recent waves of protests and demonstrations in many countries around the world have reintroduced the question of revolution and grass-roots system change to the political and scholarly agenda. Whether it is the fight against autocratic and corrupt regimes or protests against market-driven politics, in many of these cases revolution is in the air or already on the streets. Against this background, the 16th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality want to examine the dynamics of political (and often violent) unrest that lead to, or at least aims at, fundamental structural transformations of political regimes and alterations in power relations between the masses and the elites. Our key questions are: Who makes revolutions and why? What influences the emergence and course of revolutionary situations? What the immediate and long term outcomes? And what are successful modes of transformations to more democracy? (via Irmgard Coninx Stiftung: Revolutions.)

A detailed background paper on the conference and its themes is available.

They are looking for participants who are younger academics (max. up to 5 years after PhD) or activists/practitioners (eg workers in governmental or urban services, NGOs, journalists). I’m not sure if it is exactly what they had in mind, but I would think they’d be interested in people in Black Bloc groups or actively involve in significant Occupy movements.

Those interested in participating are invented to submit a paper (max. 3500 words max), an abstract (max. 300 words), a narrative biography and a CV. Submission deadline is June 30, 2012. Co-authored and already published papers will not be accepted. There is an online submission process.

Based on a review of submissions, approximately 45 applicants will be invited to participate in the conference with peers and prominent scholars in Berlin. The Irmgard Coninx Foundation will cover travel to and accommodation in Berlin.

Nancy Fraser will be giving evening lectures as part of the conference. Fraser is the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School in New York City. She has written extensively on social theory, gender, Foucault, etc., with a focus on issues of justice. (I would love to hear her talks.)

Rebel Cities by David Harvey

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey

Manifesto on the urban commons from the acclaimed theorist.

Long before the Occupy movement, modern cities had already become the central sites of revolutionary politics, where the deeper currents of social and political change rise to the surface. Consequently, cities have been the subject of much utopian thinking. But at the same time they are also the centers of capital accumulation and the frontline for struggles over who controls access to urban resources and who dictates the quality and organization of daily life. Is it the financiers and developers, or the people?

Rebel Cities places the city at the heart of both capital and class struggles, looking at locations ranging from Johannesburg to Mumbai, and from New York City to São Paulo. Drawing on the Paris Commune as well as Occupy Wall Street and the London Riots, Harvey asks how cities might be reorganized in more socially just and ecologically sane ways—and how they can become the focus for anti-capitalist resistance. (via VersoBooks.com.)

A Soundtrack for Black History Month: How Fares the Dream?

It’s that time of year again: Black History Month — and below is my updated playlist/soundtrack for the civil rights and black power movements… But first a few remarks.

Black History Month: the one month of the year when, traditionally, American school children get to learn about George Washington Carver (our “black Leonardo”) and Booker T. Washington, and maybe if they’re lucky W. E. B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall.

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LaborFest 2011 is on in San Francisco

LaborFest is happy to present our 18th annual labor cultural arts festival in Northern California. This year in addition to commemorating the 1934 San Francisco general strike, we will commemorate and have events around the 150th anniversary of the US civil war and the role of slavery in California, the 125th anniversary of May Day and the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire In New York where 146 mostly immigrant Jewish and Italian garment workers perished in a fire. We will also be having our Film Works United festival, theatrical and musical performances, our annual BookFair and labor history cultural walks and presentations.

via LaborFest.

Read This: Robert Reich, “The rich get richer, then buy elections” (updated)

Robert Reich has a powerful piece in this Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle on what he terms a “perfect storm” that is threatening democracy in America. It should be required reading.

Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley – but he’s also a former US secretary of labor, so it’s not so easy to dismiss him as another looney Berkeley lefty or an ivory tower intellectual.

So maybe people will actually pay attention to the alarm call he issues at the end of the article:

We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.

The headline positions this article as about the increasing influence of the wealthy over the US electoral process – a very pressing topic in this election season, when you have some many extremely wealthy individuals trying to use that wealth to buy their way into high office.  It’s a real problem in California, where two tech sector businesswoman are trying to step straight from Silicon Valley into the halls of power: Carly Fiorina, former head of computer maker Hp, running for congress against Barbara Boxer; and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, as Republican candidate for governor of California.

One of Reich’s key concerns is with the increasing lack of transparency and openness in campaign financing:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates – without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Malek, whom you might remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed “Creep” in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a third.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm election, 97 percent disclosed….

We’re back to the late 19th century, when lackeys of robber barons literally deposited cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.

But while the influence of wealth on the political process is a key concern of Reich’s, the facts and figures he lays out in the article speak to a larger notion of plutocracy and to a fundamental shift in American socity:

income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it has been in 80 years

The top one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.

The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it has been in 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (whom no one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it’s 36 percent…. Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as capital gains, anyway – subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year. Their earnings were not exactly modes. The top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion.

We have to pause there to consider that: an average of $1 billion in annual income.  What is the average annual income of everyone you know? For that matter, what is the COMBINED income of everyone you know? Now, how many times would you have to multiply that to get to $1 billion?

Or what about that 17 percent tax – how much income tax did you pay last year? Those billionaires pay much less in income tax than you do – and these are the guys (almost always male) who gave us the global financial crisis.

But don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying you paid too much, but rather that they paid too little.  I don’t like some of the things the government does with my tax dollars – but then I take the bus, or go to the library or a park, or use my public school education and I remember what other things taxes get used for. And then I look at how bad the public transit and public schools and public parks and public hospitals are getting and I worry.  Unlike those hedge-fund managers, I can’t afford private health care, private schools, private parks, and even private transit is perilous these days.

And as he points out, all this enormous shift in the distribution of wealth and massive increase in wealth at the top is coming at a time when “[most] Americans are in trouble. Their jobs, incomes, savings and even homes are on the line.”

You can check out what else Reich has to say on his blog at www.robertreich.org. His book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is currently riding high on nonfiction bestseller lists.

A footnote: It’s not strictly true that no one would have accused Eisenhower of being a radical. In a recent New Yorker article on Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement, the founder of the right wing John Birch Society is quoted attacking President Dwight D. Eisenhower as “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy” who had been serving the plot “all of his adult life.” See: Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the Republicans : The New Yorker.

Update:

Persuant to Reich’s concern with stealth campaign funding:

Pro-Republican Groups Prepare Big Push at End of Races: “Anonymously financed groups are starting a coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans.” (via NYTimes.)

Rove keeps on spinning to defend the secret donations to his GOP slush funds: “Media Matters – Oct. 24 (News Analysis) – On CBS’ Face the Nation, Karl Rove continued to defend his GOP-aligned political group from criticism that it does not disclose its donors by using falsehoods and obfuscation.” (via NewsTrust.)

Media Debates Anonymous Donors, Ignores Deceptive Ads: “care2.com – By Aaron Pendell – Oct. 24 (News Analysis) – The secret financing of thousands of television ads and other media by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and other 501(c)(4) PACs will be debated long after Nov. 2 has come and gone, but there is a related matter of supreme and immediate importance that is going largely unnoticed: The content of the ads range from deceptive to objectively false.” (via NewsTrust.)

 

 

Event: Down with the IMF – DC, Oct 7-10

Some of the Scheduled Events:

Thursday Oct 7th – IMF Teach In – Details at http://imfresistance.org/?p=45

Friday Oct. 8th – March and Rally – Details at http://imfresistance.org/?p=45
Non Violent Direct Action Workshop with Nadine
Anticapitalist Night of Action

Saturday Oct. 9th – Festival of Resistance

For more info: The IMF Resistance Network.

Read This: DIY Urbanism in the San Francisco Bay Area

Fascinating and encouraging reading for all Bay Area residents, and for people interested in just and sustainable cities:

DIY Urbanism: “The current economic crisis has proven to be more than a challenge to our wallets: it has tested our faith in personal agency and our optimism in the future. But this malaise has met its match in the Bay Area, where a spirit of fierce independence has always thrived. Here the bad economy has a silver lining: it has reinvigorated and mobilized the community of do-it-yourself urbanists….”

read the whole article here: SPUR | DIY Urbanism.

SPUR = San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association, a member-supported nonprofit organization

Resist those who would rewrite the history of civil rights

Resist those who would rewrite the history of civil rights: “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten… ” — lyric from “Dixie”

Actually, old times there are forgotten quite a bit.

For 145 years, ever since a grim-faced Robert E. Lee rode away from Wilmer McLean’s house in Appomattox, Va., where he had surrendered his army, apologists for the South have been trying to induce the rest of us to forget the causes of the Civil War, to imbue an act of treachery and treason with a nobility of purpose it did not, in fact, possess.

“States’ rights,” they say. “States’ rights to maintain a system of human slavery,” they do not say…. (via Seattle Times Newspaper.)

Read This: Downhill With the G.O.P.

Paul Krugman – Downhill With the G.O.P.: “the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”… (via NYTimes.com.)

Read This: Anger is sweeping America…

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away….

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage … you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

read the rest from Paul Krugman: The Angry Rich and Taxes – NYTimes.com.

Read This: Tea Party rhetoric twists the language of emancipation

Tea Party rhetoric twists the language of emancipation: “Tea Party rhetoric uses the language of civil rights to manipulate America’s white working class…” (via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)