From Co-op to Co-op

Worker-owned co-ops are part of Labour’s larger plan to put national investment into locally-determined development through spending locally, owning locally, and making local decisions


From Brooklyn to Brattleboro, I just drove four and a half hours to go from co-op to co-op.

In Brooklyn, it’s the Park Slope Food Co-op—one of the nation’s, and the world’s, largest. A history-making experiment in pooling resources and worker hours to access high quality food at affordable prices. Now the place has more workers than it can use and produces more revenue per square foot than the fancy grocery store Whole Foods. That’s not my research; it was conducted by Forbes.

Here in Vermont, the Putney Food Co-op is another bustling place where members work their shifts, purchase in bulk, and enjoy low member prices, making decisions together. Even non-members can enjoy extraordinarily low prices on local blueberries, bulk teas, and just about everything and anything made out of maple syrup.

Co-operatives, as they say, are a thing. This May, I visited the Toad Lane co-operative in Rochdale, the founders of the modern worker co-operative movement. There, workers in textile mills and fields were pulled in and out of work during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, and, in the 1840s, got together and started their own business. Initially, as purchasers in a co-op, they bought from farmers they knew and sold to families in need. No credit, no debt. They were wise to the perils of the loan shark. They also made decisions together, and that came in handy. One member, one vote.

By the time the civil war in the US broke out, the Rochdale Pioneers were in a quandary. Like all of the textile producers in Lancashire, they depended on raw cotton from America’s South. While most of the aristocracy was rooting for the slave states and attempting to break the blockade imposed by the North, Rochdale’s Pioneers, in loud fiery meetings, decided at last that they shared more with the slaves than the slave owners, and they stood by the North. Instead of closing their mill and laying people off for lack of cotton, they just reorganized and kept the place open for just a few shifts each week and kept all the workers employed.

There’s more to that story too, more significantly, what happened after. Today, the co-operative stores that pepper most British shopping streets trace their origins back to Rochdale. Across the world, a billion people—one-seventh of the population—are either users or members of some sort of co-op, and the Labour Party, which stands an odds-on chance of forming the next national government in the UK, includes support for co-ops in its platform, or manifesto.

When I talked to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn this spring, he said that if Labour were in office and somebody decided to asset-strip their business to make a profit, shut down, and move out, they’d say, “Hang on, you can’t do that. You’ve got to offer it to the workers that have run it first.”  Worker-owned co-ops are part of Labour’s larger plan to put national investment into locally-determined development through spending locally, owning locally, and making local decisions. Sounds socialist? Strange? Foreign? Think again. Socialism like this is as here and now and close as your closest co-op.

Share This Item

Is 2018 the Year of the Public Bank in America?


February 27, 2018 (

2018 could be a turning point in the way banking is done in America. The creation of publicly owned banks could save the public millions in fees and interest each year, lead to improved financial infrastructure, and drastically reduce the cost of public projects. In recent months, more than a dozen American cities and states have been exploring the idea of transferring their accounts from private banks into banks of their own.

Unlike private banks, public banks (also called publicly owned banks) are run by an individual municipality, county, or state and must serve the public interest rather than the interests of private shareholders. In practice, when a city or state channels its revenue through its own public bank and funds projects this way, it significantly reduces its financing costs to the tune of millions or in some cases billions of dollars each year, by lowering the cost of borrowing.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who began his term earlier this year, campaigned successfully on a public banking ticket. As a former Goldman Sachs executive, Murphy knew the cost savings such a state bank could bring, by reducing fees and interest payments on its billions in revenue and spending, including $1.5 billion in deposits held by foreign banks.

Funding public projects though a publicly owned bank reduces the costs by a whopping 50 percent on average by reducing or eliminating interest and debt service payments that would otherwise get paid to private banks.

According to the Public Banking Institute (PBI), funding public projects though a publicly owned bank reduces the costs by a whopping 50 percent on average by reducing or eliminating interest and debt service payments that would otherwise get paid to private banks.

Beyond New Jersey, cities and states around the country are exploring the possibility of public banks. In the past year, city council members in Washington, D.C.Santa FePortland, and Seattle have conducted feasibility studies in their cities and many others cities are moving in that direction.

The Bank of North Dakota (BND) is often cited as the longest-running and only current public bank in the United States. It was started in 1919 to increase stability to the state’s economy, mostly agricultural at the time, which was buffeted by external forces.

BND was started before the Great Depression and therefore before the formation of the FDIC. It is not insured by the FDIC, and it doesn’t need to be—FDIC insurance only covers up to $250,000 and BND manages much larger State of North Dakota accounts. Instead, all deposits are insured by state of North Dakota itself. BND is often touted as a notable success because of its track record of providing economic stability during most national and international financial crises, including the Great Depression and the 2008 Crisis.

“Public banks are known all over the world and have a very-well established reputation or record, but they are still new here,” says Walt McRee of PBI. “And because they’re new here, we’re seeing that as we progress, the barriers and the opposition are starting to come up more and many are bringing out oppositional positions that are either based on a lack of information or an intentional sullying of the truth by the vested interests.”

As expected, many private banks and bank lobby groups have come out against this trend. Phil Murphy met with resistance when he spoke to the New Jersey Bankers Association last year, when former Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate who ran against Murphy derided the proposed state bank as “that wacky bank.”

Yet after Murphy’s victory, the establishment of a New Jersey state bank seems highly likely. “I think if we are able to pull the New Jersey thing through, we will see a real sea change,” said McRee.

Interest in public banks is growing particularly quickly in California, where the state treasurer recently laid out a plan to create a state bank to serve the state’s newly legalized cannabis industry.

Beyond the cannabis industry, cities in California are exploring the possibility of creating their own municipal banks, including San FranciscoOakland, and Berkeley. Los Angeles recently divested from Wells Fargo and is moving toward creating a city-wide public bank following a highly successful campaign. This campaign, Divest LA, is a program of Revolution LA, a grassroots organization.

Revolution LA partnered with more than thirty progressive, indigenous, environmental, and social justice organizations, and rallied over a hundred neighborhoods to support their campaign. Ultimately, Los Angeles not only divested, but adopted a thirty-point Social Responsibility scoring system for all banks with which it enters into contracts, currently the most progressive in the country.

The push for a public bank naturally followed.

“Once we were tasked with finding out where to move the money next,” explains Phoenix Goodman, organizer with Revolution LA, “we realized, that all the other banks that would be applicable would be other Wall St. banks.” Los Angeles is now has been exploring the possibility of a municipal bank.

As an example of ethical public banking, Revolution LA and many other American public banking movements look to the German Sparkassen system as a model. The Sparkassen is a group of publicly owned savings banks which not only finance 70 percent of German small and medium-sized businesses, but have also been some of the largest financers of the transition toward green energy in Germany.

“We see public banking as the cornerstone for the green energy movement in Los Angeles,” says Trinity Tran, also of Revolution LA. “If the city was able to control its own money and everything was localized, we’d be able to direct those funds to finance green energy infrastructure and green energy investment.”

“We see public banking as the cornerstone for the green energy movement in Los Angeles,”

In 2018, Walt McRee believes, “the biggest advances are going to be in public awareness, involvement, and support.” Phoenix Goodman and Trinity Tran agree, and they have seen firsthand what an informed and motivated public can accomplish through strategy and organization.

For those inspired by their success, it should be noted that Revolution LA began as an informal meeting group in 2014. “The intent was just to get a younger generation of politically-aware people together to figure out the problems and the solutions,” says Tran, explaining that by 2015 “we’d outgrown coffee shops.” Once Trump won the presidential election, the organization seized on the energy and frustration to work toward local solutions and focused on divesting LA from Wells Fargo using simultaneous protest tactics and legislative action.

“Right from the beginning, we knew this was going to be a fight, going up against one of the most powerful banks in the world,” says Tran. “We played their game. We just did it better. We were told by a legislative director two days before the final vote was delivered that Wells Fargo was lobbying up to the very end. And then they waved their white flag.”

Share This Item

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

Article Image

President Trump was almost universally panned for the press conference that followed the meeting with Russia’s President Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Trump was seen as capitulating to Russia by refusing to confront Putin on the issue of past and present interference in American elections. In fact, the American president seemed to be saying he doesn’t support the findings of his own intelligence agencies and instead prefers to take the Russian leader at his word. Even if he’s changed his tune under the backlash.

Whether you believe Putin really has some kind of compromising material to make Trump do his bidding or if Trump is simply being nice to people who partially helped get him elected, or if you somehow still think, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that all this is much ado about nothing, the fact is President Putin is a very experienced former KGB officer. He has both the know-how and the intelligence to carry out very far-sighted and ingenious operations. We don’t know his endgame and neither do we know how much of his KGB training he still employs, but in light of current events, there may be a way for us to get a deeper understanding by studying the words of Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov, a former KGB agent who defected to Canada in 1970.

In 1984, Bezmenov gave an interview to G. Edward Griffin from which much can be learned today. His most chilling point was that there’s a long-term plan put in play by Russia to defeat America through psychological warfare and “demoralization”. It’s a long game that takes decades to achieve but it may already be bearing fruit.

Bezmenov made the point that the work of the KGB mainly does not involve espionage, despite what our popular culture may tell us. Most of the work, 85% of it, was “a slow process which we call either ideological subversion, active measures, or psychological warfare.”

What does that mean? Bezmenov explained that the most striking thing about ideological subversion is that it happens in the open as a legitimate process. “You can see it with your own eyes,” he said. The American media would be able to see it, if it just focused on it. 

Here’s how he further defined ideological subversion:

“What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” 

Bezmenov described this process as “a great brainwashing” which has four basic stages. The first stage is called “demoralization” which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve. According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country. In other words, the time it takes to change what the people are thinking.

He used the examples of 1960s hippies coming to positions of power in the ’80s in the government and businesses of America. Bezmenov claimed this generation was already “contaminated” by Marxist-Leninist values. Of course, this claim that many baby boomers are somehow espousing KGB-tainted ideas is hard to believe but Bezmenov’s larger point addressed why people who have been gradually “demoralized” are unable to understand that this has happened to them.

Referring to such people, Bezmenov said:

“They are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli in a certain pattern [alluding to Pavlov]. You can not change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information. Even if you prove that white is white and black is black, you still can not change the basic perception and the logic of behavior.”

Demoralization is a process that is “irreversible”. Bezmenov actually thought (back in 1984) that the process of demoralizing America was already completed. It would take another generation and another couple of decades to get the people to think differently and return to their patriotic American values, claimed the agent.  

Vladimir Putin in a KGB uniform around 1980

In what is perhaps a most striking passage in the interview, here’s how Bezmenov described the state of a “demoralized” person:

“As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore,” said Bezmenov. “A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralization.”

It’s hard not to see in that the state of many modern Americans. We have become a society of polarized tribes, with some people flat out rejecting facts in favor of narratives and opinions.

Once demoralization is completed, the second stage of ideological brainwashing is “destabilization”. During this two-to-five-year period, asserted Bezmenov, what matters is the targeting of essential structural elements of a nation: economy, foreign relations, and defense systems. Basically, the subverter (Russia) would look to destabilize every one of those areas in the United States, considerably weakening it.

The third stage would be “crisis”. It would take only up to six weeks to send a country into crisis, explained Bezmenov. The crisis would bring “a violent change of power, structure, and economy” and will be followed by the last stage, “normalization.” That’s when your country is basically taken over, living under a new ideology and reality.

This will happen to America unless it gets rid of people who will bring it to a crisis, warned Bezmenov. What’s more “if people will fail to grasp the impending danger of that development, nothing ever can help [the] United States,” adding, “You may kiss goodbye to your freedom.”

It bears saying that when he made this statement, he was warning about baby boomers and Democrats of the time.

In another, somewhat terrifying excerpt, here’s what Bezmenov had to say about what is really happening in the United States. It may think it is living in peace, but it has been actively at war with Russia. And for some time:

“Most of the American politicians, media, and educational system trains another generation of people who think they are living at the peacetime,” said the former KGB agent. ”False. United States is in a state of war: undeclared, total war against the basic principles and foundations of this system.”

Whether you think that is true may depend on your politics, but the reality of Russian active measures, as has been outlined in the recent indictments by the special counselor Robert Mueller, give Bezmenov’s words new urgency.

You can watch the full interview here:

Share This Item


July 17, 2018 (

The protest performance called “Policeman Enters the Game” was held in solidarity with Russian]’s political prisoners and directed against the political situation in the country

A screenshot from the activists’ video address on the protest performance “Policeman Enters the Game”. Source: YouTube/Pussy Riot

The world of sport clashed with the art world at the FIFA World Cup final on July 15. Activists of Pussy Riot punk collective, three women and a man dressed in police uniform, stormed the pitch during Croatia’s counter attack. Stewards chased them and removed them from the field, Artnet reports.

Pussy Riot wrote on the group’s Facebook page that they protested against political prisoners and repressive practices used against democratic society. Presidents of France, Croatia, FIFA and Russia attended the match and hundreds of millions of people watched it on TV.

The performance, which Pussy Riot said in the video was called “Policeman Enters the Game”, marked the 11th anniversary since the death of Russian dissident and poet Dmitriy Prigov. The band referred to the concept of a “heavenly policeman” from Prigov’s poem and compared the archetype to an “earthly policeman”, who disperses rallies, breaks rules and is afraid of the World Cup celebrations. The heavenly policeman, for his part, is an honest trained professional who respects rules.

Pussy Riot also released a list of demands:

1. Let all political prisoners free.
2. Not imprison for “likes”.
3. Stop Illegal arrests on rallies.
4. Allow political competition in the country.
5. Not fabricate criminal accusations and not keep people in jails for no reason.
6. Turn the earthly policeman into the heavenly policeman.

The Russian police later said the activists could face fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($2,000) or 160 hours of community service.

Share This Item

Breaking the ICE

The Occupy movement has returned to S.F. Will it be more effective than years past?

Occupy protesters hold signs outside the U.S. Immigration office in San Francisco, July 2, 2018. . Photo by Kevin Hume

On June 24, protesters in Texas marched along the border, rallied outside immigration facilities, and tried to block buses carrying migrant detainees. On June 27, New York voters elected a Democratic Socialist who demands we abolish ICE. On June 28, a thousand women descended on a Senate building in Washington, D.C., in an outcry over family separations; 575 people were arrested.

And on June 30, the collective fight for immigration reform came to San Francisco.

The Families Belong Together march drew an estimated 30,000 participants, a remarkable effort considering the trek from Dolores Park to City Hall occurred just one week after tens of thousands turned out and marched for Pride. Parents pushed their kids in strollers, chanting in unison. People thrust signs in the air, and politicians took the stage to decry President Donald Trump’s administration and the forceful ripping apart of families who cross our borders without paperwork.

But by 2 p.m., the march was largely over, the kids taken home for naptime, the protesters congratulating one another and refueling at nearby cafes. After the Families Belong Together marchers returned to their day-to-day lives of wincing while opening news apps on their smartphones, an underground, permitless movement was organizing. On Monday, July 2, hundreds of people gathered at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office at 444 Washington St. in San Francisco, and built a makeshift, barbed-wire-topped wall that blocked the large, mechanical metal gate to the facility’s parking lot. Although San Francisco is a sanctuary city, ICE employees regularly drive detained people in and out of that parking lot — or they did, before it was occupied.

Word of the occupation spread like wildfire, and Bay Area immigration-rights groups quickly deployed their staff and supporters to the gates. The event, which officially started at 3 p.m. Monday, went well into the night, and the tents used as barriers were eventually occupied by protesters catching a bit of shut-eye.

Shortly after 9 a.m. the next morning, it didn’t look like the occupation was going anywhere. The homemade wall was surrounded by a dozen tents, several folding chairs, and tables overflowing with coffee and snacks. About 35 people milled around, talking to the press and playing music.

A protester named Michael who declined to give his last name told SF Weekly that the entrance they chose to block was very intentional.

“We don’t want to interrupt the activities of immigrant families who want to get green cards, or advance their ability to stay in the country,” he said. “But this building is also an ICE facility, and sometimes buses come in with people who’ve been detained in other parts of California.”

The driveway has been unofficially occupied, and in true Occupy movement form, no one is planning on leaving anytime soon. There’s more than enough food to go around — on Monday night tweets were sent asking people to stop bringing snacks and pizza — and protesters cycle in and out throughout the day, some working their 9-to-5 jobs before returning for an evening shift.

Another protester, Faiq, attended the events on Monday for several hours and returned Tuesday morning to hold down the fort.

“There’s been a lot of talk across the country, we’ve been seeing a lot of Occupy ICE protests and movements, so it’s been something that’s been on the top of everyone’s minds,” he said. “We’re excited this is happening in San Francisco. We’ve got folks from the East Bay, El Cerrito, Oakland. It’s awesome.”

It’s true. While San Francisco’s Occupy ICE protest may be the first time many city residents have heard of the movement, we’re a little late to the game; most protests at ICE facilities launched across the country last week. In Portland, lines of SWAT teams in helmets with batons stared down protesters. Occupy camps have been set up in Philadelphia, Detroit, Seattle, Wichita, and Charlotte. 

The crowds at all protests, and particularly San Francisco’s, are diverse, which perhaps speaks to the far-reaching range of the immigration crisis. In this city, it’s hard not to know someone who’s been affected by our immigration system.

“This is an intersectional issue. It affects our Muslim brothers and sisters, as this department was created in response to terrorism,” Faiq said. “Now it’s harassing our Latinx brothers and sisters and we’re fighting with solidarity for their struggle.

“The call here is to abolish ICE, but we want to bring attention to the fact that this is something that America is founded upon: stolen land, slavery, property rights over human rights, and ICE is just a mere continuation of that.”

The call to “abolish ICE” can, at first glance, appear a bit lofty and unspecific. Past Occupy movements have had similar vague requests. The first one occurred in 2009, when students affected by the recession occupied University of California campus buildings, protesting fee hikes and budget cuts. While the outrage was genuine, the lack of clear asks brought around the slogan “Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing” from critics. Even the catchphrase of participants at the time, “We are the 99 percent,” was more about the identity of participants than goals of the movement.

Demands aside, Occupy’s viral nature means success in mobilizing people. The Occupy Wall Street effort, which launched in 2011, lasted a remarkable two months before authorities forced participants out of Zuccotti Park. By that point, some clear requests had been developed: The group wanted forgiveness of student loan debt, more oversight over large banks’ speculative trading, and a reduction in corporations’ influence on politics. But it lacked diversity, with a poll of Zuccotti Park residents showing that 81 percent of participants were white.

The movement fizzled after the park was cleared out, and while pop-ups of the Occupy movement have appeared over the past few years, it’s lay fairly dormant since 2015.

Now that it’s back, will it be a success? It’s hard to say. As of Tuesday morning, the San Francisco camp had already been notified twice by police that they were in violation of 647e, which forbids people to “lodge in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it.”

If a police-led sweep happens, it’ll most likely occur in the middle of the night, when numbers are low and no members of the media are nearby to document it.

And the protesters are largely on their own. While local politicians spoke at the Families Belong Together rally and send out press releases bemoaning Trump’s policies, those occupying San Francisco’s ICE building say they’re just bucking a trend.

“Politicians are now paying lip service that ICE needs to be abolished, but we’re not going to believe them until they do something concrete, like remove their funding,” Michael says. “It’s within their power to do that. It’s within our power to block a driveway for a while. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Nuala Sawyer is SF Weekly’s news editor. |  @TheBestNuala

Share This Item

Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras

A video showing facial recognition software in use at the headquarters of the artificial intelligence company Megvii in Beijing.CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

ZHENGZHOU, China — In the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, a police officer wearing facial recognition glasses spotted a heroin smuggler at a train station.

In Qingdao, a city famous for its German colonial heritage, cameras powered by artificial intelligence helped the police snatch two dozen criminal suspects in the midst of a big annual beer festival.

In Wuhu, a fugitive murder suspect was identified by a camera as he bought food from a street vendor.

With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.

“In the past, it was all about instinct,” said Shan Jun, the deputy chief of the police at the railway station in Zhengzhou, where the heroin smuggler was caught. “If you missed something, you missed it.”

China is reversing the commonly held vision of technology as a great democratizer, bringing people more freedom and connecting them to the world. In China, it has brought control.

Megvii employees at the company’s offices in Beijing.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

In some cities, cameras scan train stations for China’s most wanted. Billboard-size displays show the faces of jaywalkers and list the names of people who don’t pay their debts. Facial recognition scanners guard the entrances to housing complexes. Already, China has an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras — four times as many as the United States.

Such efforts supplement other systems that track internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and even car travel in some places.

Even so, China’s ambitions outstrip its abilities. Technology in place at one train station or crosswalk may be lacking in another city, or even the next block over. Bureaucratic inefficiencies prevent the creation of a nationwide network.

For the Communist Party, that may not matter. Far from hiding their efforts, Chinese authorities regularly state, and overstate, their capabilities. In China, even the perception of surveillance can keep the public in line.

Some places are further along than others. Invasive mass-surveillance software has been set up in the west to track members of the Uighur Muslim minority and map their relations with friends and family, according to software viewed by The New York Times.

“This is potentially a totally new way for the government to manage the economy and society,” said Martin Chorzempa, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“The goal is algorithmic governance,” he added.

The Shame Game

The intersection south of Changhong Bridge in the city of Xiangyang used to be a nightmare. Cars drove fast and jaywalkers darted into the street.

Then last summer, the police put up cameras linked to facial recognition technology and a big, outdoor screen. Photos of lawbreakers were displayed alongside their names and government I.D. numbers. People were initially excited to see their faces on the board, said Guan Yue, a spokeswoman, until propaganda outlets told them it was punishment.

“If you are captured by the system and you don’t see it, your neighbors or colleagues will, and they will gossip about it,” she said. “That’s too embarrassing for people to take.”

China’s new surveillance is based on an old idea: Only strong authority can bring order to a turbulent country. Mao Zedong took that philosophy to devastating ends, as his top-down rule brought famine and then the Cultural Revolution.

His successors also craved order but feared the consequences of totalitarian rule. They formed a new understanding with the Chinese people. In exchange for political impotence, they would be mostly left alone and allowed to get rich.

It worked. Censorship and police powers remained strong, but China’s people still found more freedom. That new attitude helped usher in decades of breakneck economic growth.

Today, that unwritten agreement is breaking down.

China’s economy isn’t growing at the same pace. It suffers from a severe wealth gap. After four decades of fatter paychecks and better living, its people have higher expectations.


Tourists waiting to visit the Mao Mausoleum in Beijing, under a pole holding 11 surveillance cameras.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has moved to solidify his power. Changes to Chinese law mean he could rule longer than any leader since Mao. And he has undertaken a broad corruption crackdown that could make him plenty of enemies.

For support, he has turned to the Mao-era beliefs in the importance of a cult of personality and the role of the Communist Party in everyday life. Technology gives him the power to make it happen.

“Reform and opening has already failed, but no one dares to say it,” said Chinese historian Zhang Lifan, citing China’s four-decade post-Mao policy. “The current system has created severe social and economic segregation. So now the rulers use the taxpayers’ money to monitor the taxpayers.”

Mr. Xi has launched a major upgrade of the Chinese surveillance state. China has become the world’s biggest market for security and surveillance technology, with analysts estimating the country will have almost 300 million cameras installed by 2020. Chinese buyers will snap up more than three-quarters of all servers designed to scan video footage for faces, predicts IHS Markit, a research firm. China’s police will spend an additional $30 billion in the coming years on techno-enabled snooping, according to one expert quoted in state media.

Government contracts are fueling research and development into technologies that track faces, clothing and even a person’s gait. Experimental gadgets, like facial-recognition glasses, have begun to appear.

Judging public Chinese reaction can be difficult in a country where the news media is controlled by the government. Still, so far the average Chinese citizen appears to show little concern. Erratic enforcement of laws against everything from speeding to assault means the long arm of China’s authoritarian government can feel remote from everyday life. As a result, many cheer on new attempts at law and order.

“It’s one of the biggest intersections in the city,” said Wang Fukang, a college student who volunteered as a guard at the crosswalk in Xiangyang. “It’s important that it stays safe and orderly.”


At the Shanghai headquarters of the artificial intelligence start-up Yitu, a network of cameras linked to a facial recognition system monitors employees and can track their movements in the office.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The Surveillance Start-Up

Start-ups often make a point of insisting their employees use their technology. In Shanghai, a company called Yitu has taken that to the extreme.

The halls of its offices are dotted with cameras, looking for faces. From desk to break room to exit, employees’ paths are traced on a television screen with blue dotted lines. The monitor shows their comings and goings, all day, everyday.

In China, snooping is becoming big business. As the country spends heavily on surveillance, a new generation of start-ups have risen to meet the demand.

Chinese companies are developing globally competitive applications like image and voice recognition. Yitu took first place in a 2017 open contest for facial recognition algorithms held by the United States government’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A number of other Chinese companies also scored well.

A technology boom in China is helping the government’s surveillance ambitions. In sheer scale and investment, China already rivals Silicon Valley. Between the government and eager investors, surveillance start-ups have access to plenty of money and other resources.

In May, the upstart A.I. company SenseTime raised $620 million, giving it a valuation of about $4.5 billion. Yitu raised $200 million last month. Another rival, Megvii, raised $460 million from investors that included a state-backed fund created by China’s top leadership.

At a conference in May at an upscale hotel in Beijing, China’s security-industrial complex offered its vision of the future. Companies big and small showed off facial-recognition security gates and systems that track cars around cities to local government officials, tech executives and investors.

Private companies see big potential in China’s surveillance build-out. China’s public security market was valued at more than $80 billion last year but could be worth even more as the country builds its capabilities, said Shen Xinyang, a former Google data scientist who is now chief technology officer of Eyecool, a start-up.

“Artificial intelligence for public security is actually still a very insignificant portion of the whole market,” he said, pointing out that most equipment currently in use was “nonintelligent.”

Many of these businesses are already providing data to the government.

Mr. Shen told the group that his company had surveillance systems at more than 20 airports and train stations, which had helped catch 1,000 criminals. Eyecool, he said, is also handing over two million facial images each day to a burgeoning big-data police system called Skynet.

At a building complex in Xiangyang, a facial-recognition system set up to let residents quickly through security gates adds to the police’s collection of photos of local residents, according to local Chinese Communist Party officials.

Wen Yangli, an executive at Number 1 Community, which makes the product, said the company is at work on other applications. One would detect when crowds of people are clashing. Another would allow police to use virtual maps of buildings to find out who lives where.

China’s surveillance companies are also looking to test the appetite for high-tech surveillance abroad. Yitu says it has been expanding overseas, with plans to increase business in regions like Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

At home, China is preparing its people for next-level surveillance technology. A recent state-media propaganda film called “Amazing China” showed off a similar virtual map that provided police with records of utility use, saying it could be used for predictive policing.

“If there are anomalies, the system sends an alert,” a narrator says, as Chinese police officers pay a visit to an apartment with a record of erratic utility use. The film then quotes one of the officers: “No matter which corner you escape to, we’ll bring you to justice.”


A video showing facial recognition software in use at the Megvii showroom in Beijing.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Enter the Panopticon

For technology to be effective, it doesn’t always have to work. Take China’s facial-recognition glasses.

Police in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou recently showed off the specs at a high-speed rail station for state media and others. They snapped photos of a policewoman peering from behind the shaded lenses.

But the glasses work only if the target stands still for several seconds. They have been used mostly to check travelers for fake identifications.

China’s national database of individuals it has flagged for watching — including suspected terrorists, criminals, drug traffickers, political activists and others — includes 20 million to 30 million people, said one technology executive who works closely with the government. That is too many people for today’s facial recognition technology to parse, said the executive, who asked not to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

The system remains more of a digital patchwork than an all-seeing technological network. Many files still aren’t digitized, and others are on mismatched spreadsheets that can’t be easily reconciled. Systems that police hope will someday be powered by A.I. are currently run by teams of people sorting through photos and data the old-fashioned way.

Take, for example, the crosswalk in Xiangyang. The images don’t appear instantaneously. The billboard often shows jaywalkers from weeks ago, though authorities have recently reduced the lag to about five or six days. Officials said humans still sift through the images to match them to people’s identities.

Still, Chinese authorities who are generally mum about security have embarked on a campaign to persuade the country’s people that the high-tech security state is already in place.

China’s propagandists are fond of stories in which police use facial recognition to spot wanted criminals at events. An article in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, covered a series of arrests made with the aid of facial recognition at concerts of the pop star Jackie Cheung. The piece referenced some of the singer’s lyrics: “You are a boundless net of love that easily trapped me.”

In many places, it works. At the intersection in Xiangyang, jaywalking has decreased. At the building complex where Number 1 Community’s facial-recognition gate system has been installed, a problem with bike theft ceased entirely, according to building management.


An outdoor screen in Xiangyang displays photos of jaywalkers alongside their names and I.D. numbers. The idea is to embarrass offenders into compliance.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

“The whole point is that people don’t know if they’re being monitored, and that uncertainty makes people more obedient,” said Mr. Chorzempa, the Peterson Institute fellow.

He described the approach as a panopticon, the idea that people will follow the rules precisely because they don’t know whether they are being watched.

In Zhengzhou, police were happy to explain how just the thought of the facial recognition glasses could get criminals to confess.

Mr. Shan, the Zhengzhou railway station deputy police chief, cited the time his department grabbed a heroin smuggler. While questioning the suspect, Mr. Shan said, police pulled out the glasses and told the man that what he said didn’t matter. The glasses could give them all the information they needed.

“Because he was afraid of being found out by the advanced technology, he confessed,” said Mr. Shan, adding that the suspect had swallowed 60 small packs of heroin.

“We didn’t even use any interrogation techniques,” Mr. Shan said. “He simply gave it all up.”

Carolyn Zhang contributed reporting from Zhengzhou.

Share This Item

Happy Birthday Mario Woods | Truly CA

Truly CA
Published on Jul 12, 2018

After her son Mario Woods is killed by San Francisco police officers, Gwen Woods survives her grief by continuing to tell her son’s story.

This film is part of The Happy Birthday Project — a series of short, intimate portraits of the mothers, family, and close friends of victims of recent police killings in America. Stepping beyond the news headlines and political debates, the films witness loved ones as they remember, celebrate, and try to come to terms with the tragedies that have captured the attention of the nation and world.

Directed by Mohammad Gorjestani. Produced by Malcolm Pullinger.

Share This Item

Horrible Rich Lady Takes Out Full-Page Anti-Homeless Ad in the Chron

Have we reached peak tone-deafness? Probably not, but a $30,000 anti-homeless broadside from a fake advocacy organization will be hard to beat.

The skylight under which the alleged non-crime occurred (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Friday the 13th was a big day at the San Francisco Chronicle, with longtime restaurant critic Michael Bauer announcing that he would be stepping away from that role in September after 32 years. But on the business side of things, beyond the firewall that separates ads from editorial, was a truly disturbing sight: a full-page broadside, taken out by an anonymous Neiman Marcus shopper with the cash to pay for it, denouncing homelessness in San Francisco.

Technically, an organization called Fed Up Populace Campaign, which seems to have zero presence online, shelled out the necessary $30,000. And it should horrify anyone who’s a member of the paying-any-attention-whatsoever community.

Robert Gammon@RobertGammon


The SF Chronicle ran a full-page ad today that bashes homeless people with obvious mental health issues.

And if that were not bad enough, it was paid by an anonymous donor that calls her group, Fed Up Populace Campaign — a shady org that doesn’t have a website.


“Watch Your Backs — Nobody Else Is,” its headline screams. “… as if stepping over used syringes and filth in Maiden Lane wasn’t bad enough …” [ellipses in original].

Dipping a three-foot-long tailfeather from an extinct songbird into an inkwell encrusted with blood diamonds, the writer then goes on to relate the anecdote of The Time She Actually Had to Set Her Eyes Upon an Unhoused Person With Mental Illness. SF Weekly has reached out to various antifa groups to glean if this isn’t a parody intended to heighten the contradictions and usher in the revolution on an accelerated timeline, but it appears to be real. Here it is in full, emphases ours:

Recently, I went into the Fresh Market Cafe at Neiman Marcus on Geary St. to have a sandwich. I was seated at a table with my back to the food counter. Over my right shoulder and behind me I noticed a youngish homeless man acting silent, strange, and trying to peer over the food counter. It struck me how out of context this was and thinking to myself how did he get here, deep into the cafe?

Feeling uneasy after a few minutes and thinking of a purse snatching, I got up to get my purse and move my table. I turned around and saw this homeless person wielding a large pair of SCISSORS that he was opening and closing erratically, previously behind my back! Horrified, I yelled to the waitress and hurried to the other side of the restaurant. While waiting patiently for security, this psychotic homeless person took a glass of water and walked out of the door onto Geary St. wielding the scissors.

The San Francisco city fathers and those who whould be held accountable for our public safety have for years let us all down by catering to the lowest common denominator. We, the tax-paying, responsible contributing members of society have had our quality of life as San Franciscans seriously compromised, dangerously so.

Sit with your backs to the wall, fellow citizens.


Anonymous disgusted female San Francisco resident (for now)

We live in a world where concerned citizen-racists call the cops on people of color for selling water or using coupons, and now we have Neiman-Marcus patrons taking out full-page ads in newspapers because they had a run-in with a weird person.

Based on this open letter to the, um, “City Fathers” — might that include women like Mayor London Breed or Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen, or nah? — we know the writer’s gender but not her age or her race or ethnicity. But we can probably conclude it’s not Yoko Ono, who usually restricts her full-page ads to the usual “WAR IS OVER (IF YOU WANT IT)” around the holidays.

Yelping a homeless person is considerably less benign than calling for peace. Beyond the armchair psychoanalysis, and the visceral disgust at someone “acting silent” — also known as merely existing — it’s basically a call for counter-revolution. Get rid of these unsightly subhumans or else, this maybe-soon-to-be-ex-San-Franciscan demands. It’s naked class warfare, haves versus have-nots in an unaffordable paradise. Since Neiman-Marcus is pretty high-end, and the sandwiches in its “posh nosh” cafe run from $13 to $18, we can reasonably conclude that the writer lives fairly comfortably, under at least one roof — and not just because her totally-made-up, fly-by-night political organization with zero other members has money to burn on fits of pique.

By way of condensing the most urgent, intractable social issue in contemporary San Francisco to a quick summary, let’s just note that homelessness is not an aesthetic problem and moneyed shoppers are not its primary victims. Further, while we may disagree vociferously on their methods and degrees of empathy, you can’t seriously believe that the city’s political class needs to awake from its slumber and realize that a problem exists. (It’s also much too large for the city to tackle on its own. As SF Weekly has analyzed in the past, much of the blame can be pinned on the Reagan Administration.)

But it’s the zenith of narcissism to assume that because you had a random quasi-encounter with someone who made you uncomfortable — but who didn’t actually speak to you or touch you, let alone snatch your purse — homelessness has finally become a civic emergency at last. Never mind that, though. Why would someone drop so much money on such a frivolous vanity project? As a reminder of what $30,000 will buy you, that would be 1,875 maple-glazed turkey club sandwiches at Neiman’s, enough to provide a nice lunch for one in every four San Franciscans experiencing homelessness. Alternately, it’s an entire year’s salary for a minimum-wage earner in San Francisco. If you make $15 an hour for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you’ll pull in exactly $30,000 before taxes. We don’t know how much Melania’s “I Really Don’t Care, Do You” jacket cost, but you could probably nab at least one of those for 30K.

The worst part of this isn’t the sense of entitlement, or even the writer’s shock that someone whose physical appearance suggests they sleep outside could somehow swim across Neiman’s moat and scale its walls. No. The worst thing is the brazenly fascist idea that “tax-paying, responsible contributing members of society” deserve to live where they don’t have to look at poor people — many of whom in fact hold jobs and pay taxes and “contribute.” The creed that high-earners should get to dwell in a cosseted world of their own curation, or that more must yet be taken from those who have little in order to keep it all functioning smoothly, runs much deeper in San Francisco than we imagine it does. It’s what gets those “city fathers” upset when medical conferences opt to convene in another city, taking their hotel taxes with them. It’s even the guiding principle behind self-declared socialist Elon Musk’s warped and completely backward understanding of socialism.

In actuality, what these people want is unbridled capitalism at its cruellest and most hideously efficient, backed by a police state, because they can afford it. They demand that the non-monetizable, “unproductive” homeless simply not be here at all — and like hyper-affluent crybabies whining about the prospect of fair taxation, they threaten to take their ball and go to one of their several other homes if they don’t get what they want.

In decrying S.F.’s “catering to the lowest common denominator,” the writer reveals her hand. She doesn’t want the city to “do something,” because doing something only attracts more of them; she wants San Francisco to do precisely nothing — except banish them by force, so that the unsightly, the mentally ill, and the flat-broke never pollute Maiden Lane with their presence again. But that’s too impolitic for an advertorial, and even Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller saw fit to qualify Fed Up Populace’s criticisms with some truths (link here if you really must). So the writer felt the need to invent a group of people who she assumes feel just as she does, giving her complaint a veneer of legitimacy. The scariest thought is that in a supposedly liberal city bursting with ultra-high-net-worth individuals, she probably didn’t even have to.

Note from Mike Zint, First They Came for the Homeless:

$30,000 for the ad, nothing for those suffering. That is how rich people are. All about self.

Anonymous? Why are you hiding? What are you scared of?

I’ll answer that. You are scared you will be exposed as being a hater. You are scared that your peers will not support your views.

You are beneath every homeless person. You are the scum that scum doesn’t want around. Yes, stay hidden. No one wants to know you.

Share This Item

Note from Mike Zint, First They Came for the Homeless

Image may contain: 15 people, people smiling, outdoor
First they came for the homeless

July 16, 2018

Ashby and Ellis is getting a new mural. I woke up to this photo in a message.

And the artist is?

I’m still trying to verify this part. During the Poor Tour, I met a lady named Edythe Boone. She is a world famous muralist. She asked to do one, and had to raise money. I will know later on today if this is her work.

Another good development.

–Mike Zint

Share This Item

Note from Mike Zint, First They Came for the Homeless

First they came for the homeless

Finally, something good to report.

One of our Poor Tour occupiers, a mentally disabled girl, has been reunited with her family. It has been more than a year and a half since she became a resident. She has been impossible for the city to help. One of our homeless residents, Robin, found her family and they just picked her up.

When this community was designed, it was done with the knowledge that homeless helping homeless would result. The homeless are compassionate and understanding. They are the experts. They know how to help, and do. Without being asked.

I stopped counting at 65 helped into housing. The numbers were for the city’s knowledge. Not that our success matters. We still aren’t sanctioned.

We help at almost no cost to the taxpayer. 1.8 million for the HUB (can’t house an 80 year old) who has housed 2, 2.4 million for the new pathways, which has somehow managed to house 5 with the hub’s help. (must be a coincidence that they just opened, and the hub has housed 5)

Thank you, occupiers and camp residents. You are all making a difference.

Share This Item
| Powered by Mantra & WordPress.