The modern surveillance state

October 29, 2007 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Kim photoIn a few days, I should finish Naomi Klein’s very well researched and argued book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. If you haven’t heard of it or read it, do yourself a favour and get a copy. I’ve always thought that Milton Friedman would have a lot to answer for when he argued that businesses’ sole purpose is to generate profit for shareholders. Reading Klein’s book is really an eye-opener and shows how Friedman’s Chicago School economics that push free-market policies now dominate the world. As each country, like South Korea for example, is forced to open up its borders and economies to global (mainly US) corporations, once mighty local businesses and employees are ravaged. The Korean titan, Samsung, for instance, was broken up and sold for a fraction of its worth, with Volvo getting its heavy industry division, SC Johnson & Son its pharmaceutical arm, and General Electric its lighting division. What is often not known is how many once loyal local employees got the shaft as the new owners sought to downsize. Poverty and unemployment are more often the result of rampant capitalism.

The argument goes that globalisation and the opening up of markets will create business opportunities in areas of the world previously untouched. Waves of privatization have taken place and corporations greedily eye-off government services such as health care, telecommunications, energy, transportation and so on. Services for the people, built up by the people, using taxpayer’s money – now being transferred into the coffers of private organisations. And so we see private companies entering new areas – surveillance, the security industry, disaster response, health care. You find situations where a 103 year old woman was evicted from a care home because its owners declined to back down in a wrangle with a local authority over funding her care. The care home owners wanted an extra ₤100 a week because it said she required special care. Local authority assessments found that the elderly woman did not need additional nursing care but in the interests of not forcing a 103 year old woman to move, the local authority offered to meet the extra cost to avoid eviction. The nursing home is owned by a private company (according to what I’ve read) and clearly they prefer to extract the almighty dollar rather than allow an elderly woman the dignity and familiarity of living out her last years in the home she’d resided in since her early 90s. This poor lady died just weeks after being chucked out of the nursing home. You can read the sorry story here in the Guardian.

Privatization of nursing homes is all part of what Klein has outlined in her book and what I think we can all acknowledge if we just sit back and think about it. A nation-state, through state policy, provides for its citizens by educating them in the public school system, protecting borders, providing essential services such as hospitals and fire departments, administering prisons, providing adequate military forces and ensuring disease control. These are the core competencies if you like of the concept of governing. But these competencies are being outsourced and privatized. And so you have the privatization of the US Army – the army provides the soldiers and the weapons – Halliburton provides the infrastructure ie US bases overseas built with every modern comfort. Or you find Lockhead taking over the information technology divisions of the US Government.

With the War on Terror, the homeland security industry boomed, starting off with surveillance cameras: 4.2 million in the UK and 30 million in the US. And with the millions of hours of footage, you then needed analytic software such as facial recognition. And to further ensure homeland security, you needed wire-tapping, email and web surfing surveillance and of course data mining to prospect for all the gems of suspicious activity. Now we have mass state surveillance and the US is surely fast becoming a police state (and Australia is not that far behind frankly).

And if you don’t believe this then here’s a staggering story I’ve come across. The Halle Orchestra is one of Britain’s oldest symphony orchestras. It has not toured the US in more than a decade but they were looking forward to playing at Lincoln Center. But then the 85 musicians ran up against the very secure brick walls of US visa regulations. They were told they all had to travel from the orchestra’s Manchester headquarters to the US Embassy in London. And this was not just for a social chit chat over tea and cucumber sandwiches. Nope all 85 of them were required to be fingerprinted, have a facial recognition scan and suffer through a grilling of an interview. To schlepp the whole orchestra to London with hotel costs, visa fees etc would have cost the Halle Orchestra $80,000 and this was before dishing out money for travel costs to New York.

Now the orchestra in my mind did a very sensible thing: they canned the trip to the US. So the US runs the very high risk of becoming increasingly isolated because foreign performers are simply not willing to run the gauntlet for obtaining a P-1 visa. And arts organisations in the US are reluctant to book foreign performers because they know the high risk of bureaucratic snags. But of course should a performing group wish to speed up the process, they can always cough up a $US 1,000 “premium processing” fee.

China’s Golden Dragon Acrobats have toured the US for the last 30 years but this year’s tour is under a cloud because the acrobats could not provide absolute proof that they would return home (hey, you know we don’t all want to live in the US). Even a visiting scholar from Montreal, Canada had a tough time. And some artists applying for visas have been asked to perform at consular interviews (I guess consular officials are pretty good judges of artists!).

And so the modern surveillance state kills off the arts and cultural exchange.

Source: Washington Post

Update: November 4 2007 – check out what happened to some hapless Finnish musicians at Minnesota airport. After 2 hours of what they considered humiliation, the musicians filed a formal complaint with the US Embassy back in Helsinki. Thank goodness they got home and didn’t get shunted off to somewhere like Gitmo!


Entry filed under: Globalisation, Performing arts, Surveillance society.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ray  |  October 31, 2007 at 1:25 am

    As Hunter S. Thompson said, we’re in for some dark times ahead of us. All of this surveillance is the result of rhetoric influencing public perspective and in turn, allowing such legislation to pass. The thing is, along with the continual “threat” of terrorism, mass surveillance actually serves to promote fear instead of relieve it. Again, fear is used to control the population.

    Foucault related the idea of the “panopticon” – a form of prison – to the surveillance state. The panopticon prison is a central tower, with prisoner’s cells organised around it in a circular fasion. The viewpoint from the top of the tower allows each cell to be continuously monitored, and while the prisoner can see the tower (and know its function), they cannot see if a watch-guard is inside. It doesn’t matter whether there is. Because:

    “… the major effect of the panopticon [is]… to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish)

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 31, 2007 at 3:47 am

    Hi Ray
    The corporatist state is using fear as a way of controlling the population – fear of Islam, fear of interest rates rising, fear of terrorist attacks, fear of anything that moves. You are right – surveillance is a tool of the fear mongers. Have you read Naomi Klein’s new book? she makes some great points about the use of fear. I’ve added you to my blogroll BTW.

  • 3. Ray  |  November 1, 2007 at 1:26 am

    I’ve been searching for Klein’s latest, but it’s been checked out of all the libraries in my area! It kind of bodes well for the future though :p.

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  November 1, 2007 at 2:27 am

    hot foot it to Dymocks Ray, you’re in Oz right? buy a copy because you’ll read it many times. First read through, you’re stunned, you can’t believe what you’re reading; second read through, angry…..


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