By Fred Gates

If you ever thought this blog was too serious, this will end that.

For Christmas I received an awesome gift from a great friend of mine: the iPod touch. For those not familiar with this particular iProduct, it is basically the same device as an iPhone, without the cellular part. With a wifi connection, it can do all the things you can do with a smart phone (including taking calls with Google Voice)! So for the rest of this post I’ll refer to it as a smart phone, since that is how I’m using it.

Now let’s get stupid.

Imagine you are a tourist in New York, and you find yourself in front of the News Corp headquarters at 1211 Avenue of The Americas. You want to geotag the spot, or “check in” on Foursquare (or Path or Facebook or twitter, they use the same database). You open the app and ask it to show you what is nearby. At the top of the list, the spot closest to where you are standing, is “Faux News Headquarters.” Listed immediately AFTER this are legitimate places like News Corp, Fox News, etc.

It seems that some mischievous troublemaker has marked the spot. He even managed to get his result to appear ABOVE the real ones! That’d be me. Here’s what the location looks like on FourSquare (hint: you don’t need to be there to “check in”).

So we’ve determined that anyone can add spots to the geotag database and call them whatever they like. Freedom, baby! They can ultimately be taken off but the legitimate “owner” needs to petition to get them removed etc., and most likely doesn’t even know this is an option (shhh!).

OK, but how’d I get it to the top of the list? Location, location, location.

Let’s call it the space class warfare formula: those that are OUTSIDE vs. those that are INSIDE.

Here’s how that works. Satellites are, at least for know, completely democratic. The GPS system’s goal is very simple: to locate you (or your smart phone, to be more precise) as accurately as non-humanly possible. The people making fun of a location are most likely doing it from OUTSIDE of the location, while the “legitimate” location-ers will most likely be INSIDE the actual building. So if you put your geotag graf in front of what you want to lampoon or editorialize, it IS legitimately closer to the people on the street than the “real” location itself.

Not that I’d advocate doing this — wait, scratch that… that is TOTALLY what I am advocating. Someone has to have some fun in this society, it might as well be you. But make sure you check in a Faux News first! I’m already “the mayor.”

PS. The cops who do a 24 hour watch on Fox News thought it was hysterical. Don’t be a wuss.

by Fred Gates

Remember Apple’s iconic “Think Different” ad, narrated by Richard Dreyfus? If not, here’s the video:


 
It closes with the admonition that only the “crazy” ones are the ones who can really change the world — but has Apple embraced the status quo on cheap foreign labor instead of trying to lead? More importantly, has Apple missed a real opportunity to be seen as different by taking a little of its own “Think Different” advice in this area?

I have already described one idea, based on Henry Ford’s creation of a new class of consumers by tripling the wages of his employees while he was vilified as crazy and a socialist for doing so.

But there are many more.

First, some context. Apple’s latest quarterly report has far exceeded Wall Street’s expectations and driven the stock price up 10%. It shows that Apple is generating unheard-of profits at a rate of close to a billion dollars a week! Apple also now has a $97.6 billion “cash hoard” on hand.

Perhaps it is understandable that there are very few stories in the mainstream media about the depressing factory issues that might be the only thing that can sully their immaculate corporate image: not only as a design and business leader, but as a “green” company with fair practices.

As usual, the only one with the cojones to take on Apple seems to be Jon Stewart:


 
I’ve scolded the media enough here for keeping information like this from people who, I believe, have a real interest in seeing it. Perhaps our collective denial has much to do with our love of the very products these people manufacture for us (I have a iPod touch, which is basically an iPhone as I can do everything, including making calls through Google Voice, that can be done on a iPhone — and I DO love it). Maybe Apple has used our complicity to tamp down a possible level of consumer outrage (along the lines of the Kathy Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal in the mid-90’s) and, as a result, has gotten away with making essentially no public statements on this.

But is Apple missing an marketing opportunity to show that it’s still willing to “Think Different?”

Apple could afford, as we’ve seen above, to pay its workers more.

Isn’t it worth it? Not just for humanitarian reasons but to reposition apple as a global leader in “fair trade?” Imagine how much more well-loved the brand would be if Apple announce it would pay all of its workers a true living wage.  Are we really such slaves to the Wall Street “bottom line” sensibility that the idea of Apple being a global “good guy” is only appealing to OWS and the far left? Apple could do this and shame its competition in the process. With virtually no support from the media, consumers would prefer to not educate themselves about the horrors iPad and iPhone workers face daily — and who can blame them?

On the other hand, Apple could easily get ahead of the story, break their silence, and make themselves look great by adding literally pennies to the hourly wages (now about 30 cents an hour!) being paid to Chinese workers. Crazy? Maybe. Thinking “Different”? Absolutely.

Apple can do better.

UPDATE 1
—————————-
A few hours after this blog was posted, The New York Times released a major article on the same subject. It is well worth reading — perhaps this will begin an new era of MSM coverage?

UPDATE 2
—————————-
How much would it actually cost Apple to make a significant increase in its workers salaries? Here are some very rounded calculations (I am not an economist!) that might shed some light on the subject:

Foxxcon employs roughly 800,000 people… let’s round this up to 1 million for the sake of argument. Making $.50 an hour (again rounded up as wages are as low as .30 in many cases) and working an average of 50 hours per week, that would put labor costs at $25 per person per week, or $1,300 per person per year. That makes Apple’s Chinese labor costs (again in this greatly simplified model) $1.3B per year. Doubling that amount would be 2.6B (addition of 1.3B in overhead); tripling it would equal $3.9B (additional overhead of $2.6B).

At the current pace, Apple is making $1B per week in profit. With no price increases, tripling all of China’s workers salaries would take $2.6B away from that, or 5% — just over 2 and a half weeks worth of profit.

Apple reports selling more than 15 million iPads in the last quarter of 2011. At this pace, that would make 60 million per year (this is iPad only). If the iPad’s retail cost was increased $20.00, 60 million units would generate $1.2B, or slightly less than half of the amount needed to triple all worker’s pay in China. iPhone sales were even more impressive, 37 million were sold in the same quarter. Round down to 30, and that makes 120 million annually, and this is likely to increase. Increasing the cost of iPhones $10 per unit would basically cover the second half of the 2.6B needed, and these calculations do not include any other products.

In summary, Apple could triple its worker’s wages in China with only a slight increase in its prices, or with a single digit percentage loss in it’s profitability, or a combination of both.

The wave of great publicity and free press that would be generated by such a move could increase Apple’s market share and stock price even further. Imagine the impact of a headline like this:

Apple Commits To Tripling Chinese Worker’s Salaries

This would involve vision and risk, but it is a great example of how Apple could, if it chose to, “Think Different” on labor issues in China.

A recent South Park Episode titled “You’re Getting Old” skews parents who think their kid’s music “sounds like crap.” At one point Stan’s mom declares “it’s hardly even MUSIC.”

 

Well, as most New Yorkers already know, The New York Post is hardly even a newspaper.

The Post has gone out of it’s way to vilify and “expose” the Occupy Wall Street movement to its right-wing base. Typical in its coverage are stories like this one exposing the supposed contradictions and ironies of the existence of less-than-poor OWS protestors. The “gotchya” moment in this one is when an ambused supporter reveals:

“Tents are not for me,” he confessed, when confronted in the sleek black lobby of the Washington Street hotel where sources described him as a “repeat” guest…

It’s pretty basic stuff: we found the trust-fund baby “spoiled” protester in the midst of the great unwashed. Gotchya!

CAUGHT! Rich OWS protestor declares tents are not his thing!

 
The irony doesn’t stop there.

The real trust fund kid is the paper itself. For at least ten years, the typo-ridden truth-challenged Post has run up undisclosed losses, estimated by some industry insiders as as much as 30 million annually. The “sugar daddy” of The Post is, of course, right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch hopes that one day his beloved Post will leave the nest and become the free-market entity it’s editorial pages love so much:

“We love the Post, but it’s not a hobby,” he says. “We very much care that it make money one day, and that it become as great a business as it is a newspaper.”

(my emphasis)

So, in essence, The New York Post is really a socialist rag — something that wouldn’t even exist without millions in subsidies from its own personal Daddy Warbucks. The free-market capitalism it extolls would have put it out of business years ago, and anyone who has seen it knows how much below the standards of ANY of its competitors it really is. It is, truly, hardly even a newspaper.

But don’t let The Post’s status as the ultimate trust-fund baby slow you down — they are still very busy throwing delicious right-wing chum into the water for it’s ravenous readers. Here’s a yummy morsel from just yesterday!

This stub of an article is essentially a slight re-writing of the exhibit’s own press release. Here’s the whole thing:

It’s political dis-scent: An olfactory artist has transported the stench of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park to a Staten Island art gallery.

“The Smell of a Critical Moment,” which opened yesterday at Doorways on Van Duzer Street, features 99 T-shirts that protesters wore for a week straight, without washing them.

Artist Gayil Nalls distributed new white tees to OWSers and on Jan. 12 collected the body-odor-drenched shirts to capture the revolution’s essence.

The park’s putrid smell became a major health concern before police raided the encampment in November.

(my emphasis)

Of course missing from the article is the inconvenient fact that the exhibit is pro-OWS:

 

Naturally the author is smart enough to know none of her readers will ever see the show or even Google it to find out more. Any more than any of them will know or care about the fact that The Post could never survive in the free market championed on its own pages. Truth clearly isn’t the point here. The “putrid smell” of the park is a fiction as much as it being “a major health concern.” Gayil Nalls effort to “commemorate” OWS becomes an attempt to “capture its essence,” and none of The Post’s readers are curious enough to wonder if this is, in fact, what the artist intends.

The Post has no Art section per se, and only covers exhibits that reinforce its reader’s prejudices. Staten Island is hardly Chelsea (or even DUMBO), but this obscure “pop-up” gallery show deserves mention simply because it is an opportunity to smear “anti-capitalist” demonstrators.

Of course the HUGE irony is The Post couldn’t hold its own in a real free market. I’m sure that is why it “stinks” so much.

Recently I had the pleasure of see the New Photography 2011 exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art here in NYC. The most interesting and exciting of the six photographers work shown was that of Doug Rickard, who uses “found” images from Google Maps to paint a picture of urban and suburban decay; one that is only enhanced by the arbitrary and accidental nature of the images.

Here is one (you can see all of them here):

Mr. Rickard titles all his pieces with the coordinates and a city or town name. Since the images are reproduced from publicly available images, the work is not about his skill as a photographer but rather as an archivist. To be dramatic, he has shown the dark side of what creating a library of images of every possible place can reveal. Also, the images are technically Google’s property, raising interesting issues of ownership, “fair use,” and art.

We somehow already know these images exist, yet to see them is still shocking.

While with most types of surveillance images (for lack of a better term) we expect and even desire the worst of human nature to be recorded — in fact we rely on it — to provide evidence of crimes and protection from terrorism.

But Google Maps is supposed to be fun: we look here to check out a house we want to buy, a place we want to visit on vacation, or a cherished location from our childhood. When it reveals something ugly about ourselves or our society, something must be wrong with the machine. We all know these people and places exist, and we all do our best to look somewhere else. Rickard reminds us they are still here, sometimes very close by.

Of course, “found” art began in the 1920’s with Duchamp and the Surrealists, and hasn’t changed that much since he exhibited a urinal as art — except that the shock value is long gone. Congratulations to Rickard for finding it again.

by Fred Gates

Like most romances, the beginning seemed like a beautiful fantasy: young dreamers gathered in a local park, captured the city’s attention, then the world’s. Most of the city’s residents (based on polling at the time) loved the new addition to downtown and even the mayor was seduced into letting the city’s newest tourist attraction flourish in Zuccotti Park.

But then, like more than a few romances, it got ugly.

The honeymoon was over, the story began to get stale, and even the most liberal city in the country’s citizens wondered where the thrill had gone. The mayor decided the cost of a long, lengthy “divorce” was a better option than tolerating another day of his ex-friend’s cruel taunts. So on November 15th, 2011, he kicked out his ex, got a court order, and began to pay and pay— not with his own money, but with yours.

Geodesic domes weren't allowed in the park either, but Buffalo ADJUSTED.

Could he have done something else? Was he blinded by his own passion and bad feelings? More importantly, could he have reached a far less costly agreement? Perhaps the City of Buffalo could have helped: one of many that had found harmony and a successful “marriage” with the occupiers.

What was the secret to Buffalo’s success?

To be glib, just old-fashioned common sense. There is a good reason you haven’t read any articles on Buffalo’s Occupy movement: serious clashes with law enforcement are virtually non-existent, and from the beginning Buffalonians, and the city, “got it.”

I could write an entire article on why this is, but I can summarize it this way: Buffalo is a real blue-collar town, gutted by the shut down of Bethlehem Steel and other industrial giants, and truly affected by Wall Street’s abuses in a way that New Yorkers at least pretend not to be. And unlike New York, Buffalonians don’t need to pretend they are cool with Wall Street or make nice with the rich: both of these groups are barely represented here, and the mayor isn’t a billionaire either.

Their approach was practical, cost effective, and driven by common sense: they made an agreement with the protestors!

The simplicity and good sense of this agreement should be obvious to anyone. The city agrees to let the occupiers stay in Niagara Square (which, by the way, sits directly across from of Buffalo’s majestic City Hall building, pictured below) and the occupiers agree to keep the space clean, not engage in illegal activities, etc. This very amicable agreement also, in this writer’s opinion, creates a sense of goodwill between law enforcement and the occupiers that makes violence and tension far less likely.

Buffalo's Occupy encampment is in the shadow of City Hall. Would New York "break" if tried a similar arrangement?

New York, in contrast, has become bitter and antagonistic towards OWS post-November 15th and is paying for it. Consider for a moment the financial implications of our “divorce” from the protesters. Rather than have a single meeting spot and nerve center to (relatively easily) police, the city now has to deal with attempts to occupy other locations, disruptive “flash mob” actions (like the recent one in Grand Central discussed here), and a dissolute but dedicated group of OWS “nomads” who will pop up anywhere they can. In short, they cleaned up one mess and created a far bigger one.

The city will spend millions more than it needs to monitoring twitter feeds and OWS websites to discover the next action, paying police overtime, and, up until recently, creating and maintaining a “frozen zone” in Zucotti Park. Sure, New Yorkers have a little more money than Buffalonians… but can we afford to waste it on something that could have been controlled by a less antagonistic attitude and the mayor’s signature?

I wonder. So far it seems to be working out great in Buffalo.

Back home, Bloomberg is wasting millions to prove some point, or punish someone (or something?). Why can’t it work here?

 

 

By Fred Gates

As reported here, as well as other places, the barricades that had surrounded Zuccotti Park since November 15th and effectively created an atmosphere of a “crime scene,” as one commentator put it, seemed to violate city zoning regulations for the park.

We now know that Brookfield was, in fact, in violation of the law.

Responding almost immediately to a letter from the ACLU, the park’s owners have taken down the barricades. It’s a small victory for OWS but symbolic as pushback to the Brookfields’ and the mayor’s campaign of doing whatever they think they can get away with to pre-emptively, if not silence, at least hinder the protestors’ ability to enjoy the protection of their free speech rights as afforded by the First Amendment.

As with the attempted censorship of most things, the wrong-headed and illegal policies used by both entities has continued to create publicity for a story that might have died otherwise. Let me be the first to thank them for all the great PR work!

You can read the full text of the letter here. Here’s the letter’s summary of what was described in more detail within it:

Metal barricades, preemptive searches, and selectively enforcing ever-changing unwritten rules have become established featuresof Liberty Plaza. These practices infringe on clearly established constitutional rights, and they also violate zoning laws, Brookfield’s legal obligations under the 1968 special zoning permit, and City policy. As the Mayor has noted with regard to Liberty Plaza, “we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws.”  These practices violate city law and should be ended immediately, restoring Liberty Plaza to its place as a permanent open park that is open and accessible to all members of the public on an equal basis.

(my emphasis)

It’s a nice touch that they quoted the mayor.

As part of my own advocacy I filed a complaint with the city’s web site, which was never updated until — you guessed it — midnight on January 9th. Here’s a screen shot:

“No further action was necessary.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Threat? Tiny Lauren Digioia gets selected. Photo by Jules Mattson.

UPDATE #1: New video shows another protester getting the exact same treatment, at same event.

———–

By Fred Gates

For anyone following the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is important to understand the concept of selective enforcement and it’s application to what has happened so far.

We all break laws every day, often without knowing.

We cross against the light (jaywalking), take a cell phone call or text in our car (both illegal and stupid), let our child ride his bike without a helmet, sleep with someone else’s spouse (see below), throw our junk mail into a public waste bin, and forget to recycle that can or bottle — or scrap of paper.

In large metropolitan areas, police forces have selective enforcement as official policy, mostly because it would be beyond the scope of normal budgets and workforces to prosecute every violation of the law. New York City certainly qualifies as a city where the police department couldn’t function without it. There are even laws on the books that have been effectively retired altogether from enforcement; for example the fact that adultery is still classified as a Type B misdemeanor in New York (and is illegal in many other states as well).

Used reasonably, selective enforcement works. But the key word here is reasonably. Without good discretion and common sense, it can easily devolve into what the Wikipedia article linked above describes:

Historically, selective enforcement is recognized as a sign of tyranny, and an abuse of power, because it violates rule of law, allowing men to apply justice only when they choose. Aside from this being inherently unjust, it almost inevitably must lead to favoritism and extortion, with those empowered to choose being able to help their friends, take bribes, and threaten those they desire favors from.

Mayor Koch used to use the catchphrase “how am I doin’?” Mayor Bloomberg probably avoids following suit because he doesn’t really want an answer. Well, here it is.

In the early days of OWS, selective enforcement was the protestor’s best friend. Popular opinion was high, young women often protested topless, and the rules at Zuccotti Park were consistently ignored by the protestors. The were also ignored by the city and Zuccotti’s owners, Brookfield properties, by choice. Mayor Bloomberg’s political calculation was simple: cracking down on a popular phenomenon that had also become a tourist attraction wouldn’t make him look good, even though he had the power to do so.

So it continued for months.

Now consider a partial quote from Bloomberg’s statement about “evicting” the protest encampment from Zuccotti Park:

Protesters – and the general public – are welcome there to exercise their First Amendment rights, and otherwise enjoy the park, but will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and, going forward, must follow all park rules.

The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day. Ever since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with, as the park has been taken over by protesters, making it unavailable to anyone else.

From the beginning, I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.

(my emphasis)

Who decided when to enforce the law? Mayor Bloomberg. Was it being violated before? Absolutely.

It would be difficult to argue otherwise — unless the conditions dramatically changed exactly on or about November 15th, 2011: the city, police, and the owners of Zuccotti Park had allowed these violations to continue. The mayor says he will, from this date on, guarantee public health and safety — but when it was politically advantageous for him to do otherwise, he had no problem with it.

Right now the city keeps the park barricaded, which is technically against the law, as well as other high visibility spots in lower Manhattan that have been seen as targets of protests. Many have complained about this creating a forbidding environment downtown, including the hardly-liberal New York Post:

That’s just bull!

Wall Street’s beloved bronze bovine was set free yesterday (inset) for his 22nd birthday — but recaged an hour later by the NYPD.

The “Charging Bull” sculpture has spent the last three months behind barricades erected to protect it from Occupy Wall Street protesters. The cage was briefly removed yesterday morning so locals could celebrate — which they did by groping the bovine’s rear end.

Eventually, the NYPD — reneging on a promise to community leaders to free the bull — put the barriers back up.

(my emphasis)

Another commentator urged the city to bring down the barricades because they bring back associations with 9/11. While I don’t entirely agree with his assesment, this part of the article is spot on:

The encampment at Zuccotti Park has been removed, but the police barricades remain throughout the neighborhood, blocking off streets and plazas. The free low(sp) of pedestrian movement in Lower Manhattan has been further restricted not by terrorism, but in a proactive response to the possibility of sudden “occupation” by a handful of our own citizens. This is a small civic example of what Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called “defining deviancy down”—we are protecting ourselves from ourselves.

(my emphasis)

At least some of the barricading is illegal, as discussed before, but the Mayor and the city have used selective enforcement to allow it.

Now on to the title of this piece. As we have all seen, there have been instances where police abused power and even violated protestors’ and other’s (mass arrests of reporters comes to mind) First Amendment rights. But now, seemingly by design, a more subtle tactic is being used to create a “chilling effect” on those who might choose to protest: you guessed it— selective enforcement.

Consider this excellent article from Gothamist on a recent event that I personally witnessed. Or at least consider the video:

My own video of of the same event (much harder to follow):

Are the police within their rights here? Technically, yes. Is it a reasonable use of those rights? Of course it isn’t.

Without any discernible warning or even a request to stop, this women was essential tackled and dragged away. The Gothamist article puts it this way:

So Digioia was presumably arrested for causing said “annoyance”—and while we can all agree that the OWS “people’s mic” is annoying—it’s interesting that the others who were raising their voices to repeat her words were not also arrested. It’s unclear how Digioia’s “disorderly conduct” differed from the other yelling demonstrators, except for the obvious fact that she was leading them to yell about NDAA. It looks like she was essentially arrested for being a political rabble-rouser, which we don’t see listed in the MTA’s rules of conduct.

I’d also add, just on a common sense level, that a crowd of people yelling “shame!” at a pretty good size group of police while they drag people away in the middle of Grand Central might be seen as more disturbing to commuters and tourists than the novelty of a woman, who is CLEARLY protesting something, leading a group in a “people’s mic” statement. So there’s that.

The message couldn’t be clearer: if you protest in NYC, Bloomberg’s personal army might let you — and they might not. The golden days of a city that prided itself on being a haven for free speech might exist for you on the day you decide to go out on the streets — and it might not. It is really up to the Mayor and the NYPD’s discretion. So enjoy that.

I’ve commented on this blog about how a friend of mine has avoided even visiting OWS for fear of being arrested, and how I reassured them that that fear was silly. Now I am not so sure.

If the Mayor and the Police Commissioner continue to fail to urge the NYPD to make “reasonable” decisions regarding selective enforcement, they are basically saying no First Amendment on our watch, or at least creating a chilling effect that effectively preemptively criminalizes dissent. That isn’t NYC, and it really isn’t even America.

Do better.

PS. the other obvious irony of this particular example is that Digioia was protesting the Executive Power given by the NDAA to detain US citizens without due process. President Obama signed the bill into law “reluctantly” with a signing statement that he wouldn’t use that power. As Jon Stewart pointed out, we need not worry that this power is chosen because “Barack Obama will ALWAYS be president.” Sigh.