Security Scam

NOLAscape’s back!

(To the tune of Heeeeere’s Johnny!)

Been on some trips and projects, so NOLAscape has had a little break, Almost everything attracting and distracting our attention has been national (we’ll come to that in another episode) or Alabama – less fun for a relaunch than NOLA stuff.

The Poetics of Politics
But now I see another outbreak of the petty, the pious, the spiritual retreat and decay dressing itself up in cardboard armor pretending to be a righteous knight. Authoritarianism in its conscious and unconscious incarnations masking as civic religious revival. Oh, the lace-doilyness of it all . . .

Tidy and cursed in my dove cooed room
I lie down thin and hear the good bells jaw –

What is he on about? some of the more literal minded among ye may now be inwardly muttering.

Okay. I’ll tell you.

Remember that under the pretext of protecting us from savage murderous raghead Iraqis, Bush/Cheney took away your privacy, your rights and personal security, while invading two countries, setting up torture regimes and murdering a few million people? They called this social rape “national security.”

Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu has been up to the same sort of game with his $40m security plan, more quietly and on an urban scale; and now CM Stacy Head has joined him in this annoying scheme. And why not? Mayor Mitch is essentially polishing his resumé for his next gig, so why not copy the federal technique of power accretion? It has been working for the authoritarians a level up. And Ms Head – I don’t know. Maybe she needs an elective federal or state job too, or maybe she sincerely believes in the security mythology.

Maybe the voters of red state Louisiana, probably not too enthusiastic about his statue caper, will be more accepting if Landrieu can wave some stringent measures to suppress street crime (the kind committed by you-know-who) in the sinful Sodom that they believe New Orleans to be.

And we can imagine genteel cheers from the perpetually outraged among us, who may look to CM Head to lead them into high dudgeon. “Something must be done!”

There is a ridiculous side to the $40m boondoggle of The Security Plan. Late night monologues could do a number on it. But a bad joke isn’t all that it is. We are used to government initiatives being useless and a waste of money. That may be why resistance has been muted. But the Landrieu/Head plans do not rise to the level of uselessness. They are another raid on your rights in American law and tradition, your information and your identity.

All under cover of the continuing, popular, comforting myth that thicker and harder applications of police will prevent or mitigate crime.

It’s Christmas, so let’s all say, Bah humbug! With all our policing and incarceration and crime, isn’t it time to learn something about the system’s preserving itself? Find out about how crime really works, and do something intelligent about it, and while we are there, work out what really is a crime, and distinguish it from governments’ trying to hold on to prerogative and lingering puritan punishment.

In a 22 page ordinance innocuously called “calender [sic] 32,107” BY: COUNCIL MEMBER HEAD (BY REQUEST) (meaning the administration in the august person of Mayor Mitch asked her and she accepted the mission to propose this ugly thing), CM at large Ms Stacy extends the cold, bony hand of the spiritual sickness of anxiety, fear, criminalization and surveillance. Another brick in an unlovely wall.

Are we stepping back to the bad old days of 2013 and 14, when the sulphurous Stuart Smith motivated compliant neighborhood associations and politicians to go all Calvinist crazy against music, music venues, restaurants and bars with bands? When Ms Head, returning CM Ms Palmer and some of the others (remember Jackie Clarkson?) might be found vying for the title of Representative for Righteous Condemnation?

Buried inside the tedious pages of 32,107 lurks worse. Not only bands and bars will be the victims this time. We all will.  

Let’s hack into Ms Stacy’s extension of Landrieu’s program of power.

Demon Drink. Again. Can you believe it? A curtain call for the Volstead Act. Carrie Nation, the hatchet lady, said she had a call from God in 1900, and now Stacy and Mitch are playing us MP3s of her voice’s echo.

Now I am a man no more no more  
And a black reward for a roaring life

All for our own benefit, of course. Not a call to ban this time, just to degrade, stigmatize and virtually criminalize alcoholic drinks by imposing penalties and restrictions, surveillance and cameras. From the self-righteous urban authoritarianism of security plan gen. 1, we descend to some good ol’ down home tech-flavored pious white gentry Sunday-wife revival with the camera eyes in the low night sky backing up the old Sunday Judge. Old Ms. Nation’s hatchetations by microchip and cloud storage on the New Authoritarian Model: robotic surveillance.

Here is some of the text of Ms Head’s proposal for increased civic bondage. These are punishments if an “outlet” that sells alcohol transgresses against some law. (Aside: CVS and Walgreens are outlets.) Not necessarily violent crime – any law, which has been made law by the people and the political class that will impose the punishment for breaking the law that they in their frequently confused, misguided, stuck-in-a-rut opinion gives them and their police the right to tell you what to do. And in this case, what you have to do, as owner of an “outlet” is install approved surveillance equipment, at your expense, record all your customers and the street, i.e., us – you – and send the images and sound up to the City’s cloud servers, where they say it will be stored for a minimum of fourteen (14) days.

1. Requiring that the alcoholic beverage outlet install video surveillance systems both inside and outside the premises, as dictated by the City, that archives video footage for a period of not less than fourteen (14) days to a cloud based platform integrated with the City’s system;– – – – – –

  1. requiring security guards on premises during particular days/times.

[32,107 par. – –  p. – – – ]

Let’s remember that many of the laws and restrictions surrounding alcoholic beverages in this country, and sadly even in this city which had a separate history, had the chance to escape, are pure pietistic nonsense. Their justification is that anybody that drinks an alcoholic drink in a public place is a moral reprobate and inferior being. A load of old rubbish, of course, but Americans love it. The emotional backwash of righteousness and piety just makes them feel so good.

They are pretending that nice new technology, which doesn’t ask for your driver’s license or try to humiliate youdirectly in the street is going to prevent crime. And by denigrating bars and restaurants, they can get the owners to pay for the city’s espionage.

Minimum fourteen (14) days. What is the maximum? Not even the maximum – the standard. Forever. When these unencrypted images get into the “cloud,” they also get into the NSA’s storage vaults. They will find a way to be accessible to and coded into the disgusting tyranny of the credit rating industry.

Scenario: Two guys have fight outside a grocery store in your neighborhood. Why? Who knows? Within a couple of days, they may not remember themselves. The cops can impose a sentence of enforced surveillance, to be activated immediately, before even due process. Yes, if this thing becomes law, the cops can do that. Who is being recorded? Not those two guys. They are long gone. The surveillee is you, if you buy a six pack or a candy bar from that store, or possibly even walk past it.

We have no presumption of privacy now, Mayor Landrieu recently said. I wonder if he remembers this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It’s the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, one of the Bill of Rights once thought to be an essential component of the polity – now generally considered a quaint old saw by the owning classes and their servants in government.

What should we be doing about this? There are a couple of soft solutions. On January 11th, you can go to the Council chamber, fill in a card and possibly be allowed one or two minutes to rail or to cite or argue a sound case. I have done that several times. It’s fun. Do it – there is an outside chance that Ms Head and the other CMs will broaden their vision and see the wider implications of their lining up with authoritarianism.

Or you can lobby and make a case to Mayor Elect Cantrell. In one of her promises, possibly a bit reluctant, she promised to take down the traffic cameras. Now, the speed and red light cameras only snap you if there is probable cause – the sensors have electronic reason to believe that you – you specifically, not any person who drove down that street – violated a law. How can she then justify a system that records your activity and gives it to the government and the police when there is nothing even resembling probable cause. Do that, too. It should be helpful for LaToya Cantrell to have reinforced that many New Orleanians recognize and will resist administrative overreach.

It has been suggested, though, and I like it, that the best recourse against the Landrieu/Head deepening violation of civil liberty could well be the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s lawyers know what they are doing in this space. They do not have to fear retaliation by city political officials or ward heelers. They do not have to defer to this sity’s political caste. They have the skill and experience to humble tinpot authoritarians in court.

Let’s do it. Let’s bring in the A Team.

The ACLU team.


Post Script: Since 2008, we are vividly and to many painfully aware that the boardrooms and executive suites of many banks and financial “institutions” (not to mention government offices) are loci of criminal activity. We are way beyond simple probable cause in knowing that some of the criminal activity of Chase, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and Goldman `Sachs – not to single these players out; there are many more, but these are familiar names – do far more harm to more people than a street criminal or even a gun-nut mass murder can hope to do. The damage correlates to their power, as does our shrinking from assigning accountability. Where are the proposals for recording cameras in the boardrooms? For cameras in the Mayor’s office? Nobody is up for that since Nixon hung himself with his own tapes. There is a supply chain of money, production, politics and down-and-dirty international crime that runs through Washington to Jeddah and drops bombs on Yemeni civilians. What is the value of the moral pulpit of someone who wants cameras in restaurants but has nothing to say about the ongoing imperial slaughter of millions? 


© NOLAscape 2017

Quotations from Dylan Thomas, Lament

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