When disaster relief becomes a police state dragnet

I don’t have time to be a serious investigative journalist, so here’s a little rant.

I noticed in Katrina relief work that Homeland Security was swooping down on even small shelters and on people aggregating peoplefinding data. They took the data and warned people to silence. They started doing criminal checks, looking for people on their watchlists, but right down to the level of people who might have violated parole or be wanted for various crimes. Is this legal? Is it constitutional? As far as I know, they just seized that data. The people signing into an emergency shelter in some tiny church, or community center, or high school, didn’t sign up to be picked over by the Feds.

They tried with Gustav to “wristband” and register people for evacuation. They did it for some of Hurricane Ike. Is anyone realizing what this means? Disaster hits, citizens who are particularly powerless become the target of random criminal investigation. And if you have a criminal record? What then? They going to “evacuate” you to a “special shelter”?

Not that Galveston even bothered to evacuate the people in its city lockup, people awaiting a hearing and not even convicted of a crime.

I expect the registering, wristbanding, and electronic tracking process will become more efficient over the next few years.

I wonder what people were told? You have to register and show your ID, or we won’t let you on the bus out of town?

Oh, here we go, a little bit of the plan, that I’m sure didn’t get implemented all that well, because of course FEMA and emergency management officials were thinking about how to save and feed and shelter people, not how to treat poor people like automatic criminals?

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5380868.html>http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5380868.html

What the state is doing, is perfectly legal, according to at least one expert.

“Since it’s a government record they’re checking you against, there is not the same invasion of privacy concerns that may come up in other contexts,” said professor Charles Rhodes, who teaches constitutional law at South Texas College of Law. “I think the need for it would outweigh any privacy concerns. This is a public safety issue”

Rhodes’ only reservation would be the system itself, whether it’s set up to handle, perhaps, a false match indicating someone had a criminal record when they did not. He also wants to know how smoothly such checks could be processed.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how this is implemented in the time of an emergency,” Rhodes said.

They take the exact tactic I would expect. They claim they have to “wristband” and register and track everyone, centrally, and check everyone on a government criminal-record database, in order… get this… to protect special needs citizens from sex offenders. Is that really the motivation here? If the government gave a flying fuck about protecting people with special needs from sex offenders, there are far more effective things they could be doing than violating the civil rights of people evacuating from a hurricane.

Earlier this month, it was announced AT&T Inc. has contracted with the Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management to provide electronic wristbands for those residents wanting them, before they board an evacuation bus.

The wristbands would be scanned by emergency management officials and the person’s name would be added to a bus boarding log. That person’s name and their bus information would be sent wirelessly to the University of Texas Center for Space Research data center.

….
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The decision to wear a wristband is purely voluntary. But anyone who boards an evacuation bus will have to provide a name. There will be no requirement to show an identification card, such as a driver’s license, but officials may ask those boarding for an ID.

Oh sure. It’s totally voluntary to wear an electronic wristband, but who is going to tell you that? And who is going to ask, in the face of disaster?

No requirement to show ID. But the cop who decides if you get on the bus or not can ASK YOU FOR ID. They don’t have to tell you it’s not required.

How about if you’re an immigrant and your immigration status is in question? Are you going to evacuate under these conditions? Or take your chances? What other databases are the authorities running the names against? Where will they stop? Who will stop them?

Don’t make any mistake about this, disaster might strike a whole city, but it is primarily the rich and middle class people who have the resources and social resources to get out of town and go stay with friends or in a motel. What the government is doing here is part of the immense disrespect and violation of human rights of working class people, people living in poverty, and immigrants. They might as well just go through whole neighborhoods of people who have less money and stop people at random to do criminal checks on them. OH WAIT … that already happens.

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Excite@Home bankruptcy trainwreck continues in slow motion

I cannot believe that I’m still getting legal notices about the Excite@Home bankruptcy and the pay they still owe me from October 2001. For real? Seven years of an utter waste of time and resources. How many lawyers are frittering away their lives and raking in the dough on this bullshit? They gave me most of my money long ago, from when they bounced all our last paychecks.

It stirs up my ire to get these snail mails, sometimes big fat packets of totally pointless legal documents. Some freaking genius should have made a webpage about a million years ago, for creditors (like me) to keep an email contact updated and they’d be able to pay us all that much more in saved postage costs.

Mostly though, I remember surviving the rounds of layoffs, reading Fucked Company every day along with all my co-workers, while then enduring the incredibly wankery company-wide pizza and beer meetings in the “garage” with endless power point slide shows about how great we were doing, that were obvious lies.

And the way they’d do some weird NASCAR event and whoop it up as if that was going to solve all our problems because it was cool.

The one satisfying thing was when they axed a couple of buildings after one brutal layoff, I took a whole lot of the office stuff and furniture they were throwing away and hauled it in my truck to donate it to the nearest elementary school, where second grade teachers fought like tigers over staplers and pairs of scissors. Where is the justice. They were desperate for petty office supplies while five blocks away a bunch of us basically wasted oxygen reading Fucked Company, downloading shit from Napster, and sighing bitterly as we waited for the axe to fall. *

There were some nice people at Excite (aka WebCrawler) that I worked with, but man, that company was so clearly going down. It was sad.

Anyway, everyone keep in mind if you need to get riled up, that there’s a bunch of really rich bankruptcy lawyers sailing their yachts around and enjoying their home movie theaters, still reaping the rich rewards of the dot-com crash.

* Note to future employers, actually I am a super hard worker until everyone around me has been laid off and doom is in the air.

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Caltrans evades legal responsibility for sidewalk ramps

Ah, California. Sometimes you come through with your sidewalk accessibility, your ramps and ADA compliance, and sometimes you just don’t. I opened up my issue of New Mobility magazine this morning over coffee to find a brief and horrifying news snippet. Caltrans is fighting the ADA. “CDR and other disability groups filed suit in 2006 demanding Caltrans meet obligations to provide accessible walkways and curb cuts.” Read more about it here: CDR vs. Caltrans. Here’s part of the horrifying bit, a quote from CDR president Laura Williams: “We are very concerned that they are going to use this as a challenge to the ADA itself, which then affects everyone nationwide, if they should prevail.”

Your tax dollars at work, as Caltrans wastes your money you paid to create great public transit, on legal battles to screw us disabled people who are ALSO TAXPAYERS.

In my own small town here on the SF Peninsula, it took me months just to get an answer about who was responsible for a stretch of sidewalk. And in part, that delay was because people tried to tell me that the county, city, or Caltrans might be responsible for my sidewalk corner. No one knew and there was no way to find out.

Here is at least one thing that cries out for a quick technological fix. Someone make a Google maps mashup that demarcates who is responsible for which bit of sidewalk and crosswalk. How hard could it be? Does Caltrans have the information available digitally? If so, they should make it available online. Here is the Caltrans site map. Can you find coherent information about ADA compliance, sidewalks, curb cuts, and crosswalks? Can you figure out how to find which sidewalks Caltrans “owns”? Can you figure out how to complain? I couldn’t.

Caltrans controls around 2,500 miles of sidewalk. They can’t fix them all at once, there isn’t the money or time. They haven’t surveyed their walks for ADA compliance, and they’ve had many years to do that work. But, worst of all, considering the practical realities, they don’t even provide a way for their users to report ADA problems, and they won’t take responsibility for their sidewalks.

It burns me up.

I am a happy and proud member of the super-awesome Flickr group !Rock That Disability! This morning’s realization that my own state, California, center of much disability rights activist history, is with my tax money funding a fight against the Americans with Disabilities Act. The very ADA that Barack Obama would like to support and extend; a politician who cares about the human rights of people with disabilities. I will be writing some emails to politicians this morning, notably my representative and Governor Schwarzenegger. But, I also created the Flickr group Inaccessible!. Here is its description:

A blog for photos of inaccessible places and spaces. Ever been frustrated at lack of wheelchair access, insane potholes in the sidewalk, stairs, badly configured bathrooms too small for wheelchairs, badly placed handrails, elevator buttons too high for you to reach? Snap a photo, label the place as clearly as possible, and explain why it is a barrier.

My hope is that this group will be useful to building owners and people who want to make their environment more accessible. It also helps those of us with disabilities to express our frustration and to record daily encounters with barriers to access. Documenting the problems may also help us to follow through and try to get those problems fixed by the people responsible for them.

I populated the group with a few photos I happened to have tagged already in my photo archive. Because sometimes when I’m facing a giant flight of stairs, a huge hill, a bathroom I can’t get into, or a museum where I can’t go with my kid to the exhibits, I snap a photo. Maybe 1 time out of 100 I bother to do this. But what if we all did it, every time, and built up evidence? If I document and label all the worst intersections, broken sidewalks, and so on?

I would love to see something good come of this outrage, something like Fixmystreet.com. I consider my own time and energy and expertise. I have done a gazillion BarCamps. What about an AccessCamp, for some web 2.0 love for disability rights activism?

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Apple store sued over ADA issues

Wow, I wonder why sue Apple in particular? Because most of these same things have happened to me in … well… pretty much every single store or public place I’ve been in.

ON the other hand I was unusually ticked off at the Apple Store in Palo Alto a few weeks ago. A “genius” was trying to fix my computer and I was insisting on trying to watch (as, if not using a wheelchair, I would normally do.) Another employee came by and told him he could pull out a little stand from the side of the counter. He complained.. .and they argued about it in front of me without talking to me. She showed him how to pull out the counter, and I started helping her do it and set it up. The dude acted put out. Then, at some point, he needed to plug into an ethernet cable because part of the problem was that my wireless software wasn’t working. And he couldn’t manage to find a cable long enough to reach to the little pull-out desk extension that I could see from my wheelchair. So we fought about that for a while, I went behind the counter and craned my neck and was rudely kicked out by a manager who said it was against store policy. When I tried during the *next* problem to come up that day to get him to pull the wheelchair accessible desk out again, he refused because it was inconvenient for him and blocked the way.

I am routinely in elevators with inaccessible buttons, or have to put up with someone else’s humiliating fussing over their wires or chairs or boxes stacked in a hallway to the bathroom… and so is every other disabled person I’ve ever talked with.

This bit made me laugh, “they were unable to reach products or service desks at the retail shop”. This is also true nearly everywhere. I accept that part and will just ask for help if I need it.

This part made me happy:

“The women said they are more interested in changing the store to better accommodate their disabilities than punishing the Cupertino-based company”

Well, yeah. And sometimes you have to push it, and sue, or bring down the law in any way possible, or change doesn’t happen. That’s how we got the ADA and equal-access laws in the first place.

Politely talking to a manager doesn’t always work. Picketing doesn’t either. Using the law might. It is legitimate activism.

So I respect their lawsuit and wish them luck.

But wait. Read the comments on the article. Check this one out:

“First, it seems unlikely that a company as astute as Apple typically is would miss something this important. They do have blinders, but not usually like that. ” That’s so annoying. Oh, well, it’s impossible to imagine that some poor yobs in a retail store, even a nice new fancy one downtown for a slick computer company, might be rude and discriminatory. Or that there are flaws in the ADA compliance in the building or the store setup, such as the wheelchair buttons or inevitable boxes in the hallway to the bathroom.

Bah. Screw them… no, sue them. Until they shape up. The disabled protesters who occupied the SF Federal Building 20 years ago didn’t do it just for fun… they did it so we can use the law to change things.

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In which I feel pissy about DRM and iTunes

It’s the same old song as everyone else has already sung, but man do I ever hate the Apple DRM junk in my trunk. I mean stabbity stab stab! I bought this damned album on vinyl once for 12.99 20 years ago, and then I bought it on CD, and the cd got stolen but luckily I had taped it on audiotape, and then I couldn’t find it anywhere bcause it was out of print nad was deliriously happy I could find it and hear it again by clicking 99 cents thing on iTunes. And that was several years and several Macs ago and now the damned song doesn’t work! For fuck’s sake, how many more times do I have to buy this song before I get to archive it without a waste of the world’s resources?

I was contemplating how very broken things are in music distribution. Books too. I want to own the electronic copy for whatever I buy, and then be able to get or make a physical copy of it. To record and manipulate music so I can hear it in my car. To print it or get print on demand in some graceful way. Whatever! But having just a book doesn’t satisfy me either because I want to cut and paste and quote bits of the book, fair use style, or search the book, or index it or annotate it. Think of it this way. I am willing to do a fair amount of valuable cultural work — FOR FREE — which benefits us all. Art is a contribution to the world and all art builds on other art. We need to be able to expose the connections and references. It is not information I love best, though I do love it. It is meaning. Meaning created by context and for there to be context, people have to be able to access it.

This rant inspired by my resolve to get on line and buy all the CDs possible by Dressy Bessy. I got something by them on a mix CD, and then went and downloaded more, and now love them and feel a blinding loyalty. I would like to directly give that band the $12.99 and NOT buy a CD with packaging that I will likely ruin or lose anyway. Just make it so that somewhere, it is recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart (i.e. the motherfucking IN-ternets) that I bought this music and have the rights to mess with it under whatever nice license they like. Then, if I lose the CD or my hard drive crashes I will still have the rights to interact with the bit of cultural product that I gave currency to.

iTunes of course does NOT do this… but has planned obsolescence, which I consider one of the evils our species has unleashed on the world.

Where is the lovely open source non profit Registry of Cultural Production and Rights… or the international agency… even as a part of a government… a beautifully organized repository?

That would be my own killer app.

Where I could register my intent to translate something, and pay the original author of it… Pay them directly. And then translate and publish. Think how beautiful this killer app of copyright would be for translation as well as books and music.

Or genetic material, or whatever.

(Somehow I am thinking as I say this, on the back burner of my mind, about OLPC (which is lovely in many ways but I have a big BUT) and Dil’s gold bangles from whichever Patrick O’Brian book that was. The same fallacy of physical objects and possessions and property, the same middle class assumption that the important things is STUFF.)

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