Friday, January 06, 2012

Sunday Satire: Michele Bachmann/Wingnut Edition

    You all knew that this was a comin!

"Before we get started, let's all say 'Happy Birthday' to Elvis Presley today." —Michele Bachmann, while campaigning for president in South Carolina on what was actually the anniversary of Elvis's death

Conan O'Brien -"Lenscrafters is upset with Tea Partier Michele Bachmann because she called Planned Parenthood 'the Lenscrafters of abortion.' Lenscrafters released a statement today calling her 'the Costco of crazy.'"

"Michele Bachmann pulled out of the presidential race and I just want to take a moment and say that Michele gave us a lot of material over the last eight months."

"In her concession speech, Bachmann said, 'I mean what I say.' Then she thanked her speech writer, Popeye."

David Letterman: "As I was coming out here, CBS News predicted the winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses: President Obama."

"Michele Bachmann is out, but I don't think her husband is."

"There's already controversy with the Iowa caucuses. About a half hour ago, they found eight more votes for Al Gore."

ay Leno: "(Rick) Santorum did so well, a restaurant in Boone, Iowa, named its chicken salad after him. They also have the Mitt Romney waffle, the Ron Paul cracker, and the Newt Gingrich chubby hubby ice cream."

"Rick Santorum's campaign is celebrating the Iowa caucuses with a pizza party. Here's the embarrassing part: It was delivered by Herman Cain."

David Letterman's "Top Ten Surprises At Michele O'Bachmann's Press Conference"
10. Congratulated Mitt Romney on being elected the president of Iowa
9. Gave repeated shout-outs to the Los Angeles car arsonist
8. After a brief introduction, spent 15 minutes Tebowing
7. Said she successfully prayed her campaign away
6. Shared several inspirational quotes from 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked'
5. Announced plans to bet remaining campaign funds on the Packers to win the Super Bowl
4. Said she's leaving Marcus for the lead guitarist of Journey
3. Revealed she's the latest wacky character played by Sacha Baron Cohen
2. Showed her full-body dragon tattoo
1. Ended with a, 'See you losers at the truck stop!'

David Letterman's "Top Ten Signs It Might Be Time To End Your Presidential Campaign"

10. Will only answer questions from reporters who buy you a steak dinner
9. Most influential supporter is some drunk guy from British Columbia
8. Still aren't sure what the heck a "caucus" is
7. Began last speech with, "As I look out at all these empty chairs . . . “
6. People refer to you as Mitt Romney without the charisma
5. Last campaign ad showed you curled up on the shower floor, crying
4. Instead of Iowa you've been campaigning in Idaho
3. At the last debate, all you said was, "whatevs"
2. Your mom keeps reminding you that, if this president thing doesn't work out, your Uncle Phil has a job for you at his carpet store
1. Chief of staff spent the weekend in Los Angeles setting car fires

Mitt Romney, who secured a $10 million federal bailout for Bain, calls Obama a 'crony capitalist'

  By   Jed Lewison           Thu Jan 05, 2012


Bain & Co. would likely have collapsed without a $10 million federal bailout negotiated by Mitt Romney in the early 1990s

Another day, another calculated attack from Mitt Romney ... and this time he is trying to sound just like Michele Bachmann:

Mitt Romney on Thursday labeled President Barack Obama as a "crony capitalist," invoking a theme that Rep. Michele Bachmann used before she left the presidential race.

"This president is a crony capitalist. He's a job killer," the former Massachusetts governor said during a morning town hall meeting here. "This president has engaged and is engaging in crony capitalism."

Bachmann used similar language before she dropped out of the race Wednesday after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.

If I had a dollar for every time Michele Bachmann called President Obama a crony capitalist, I'd be able to pay for the Bush tax cuts she and Mitt Romney are fighting for. But in a quick search of Nexis, I couldn't find an example of Romney using that sort of language. Now she's out of the race, however, and to woo her supporters, Romney is robotically parroting her lines.

But even though Mitt Romney is supposedly smarter than Michele Bachmann, the attack doesn't make any more sense when he says it than when she does. I can understand why conservatives might not like President Obama's policies, but he's not corrupt. Not even Darrell Issa has been able to come up with anything that remotely supports such a claim.

And while Bachmann at least voted against TARP, giving her some standing to use the rhetoric of crony capitalism, Romney not only supported it, but has personally benefited from what Bachmann would certainly call "crony capitalism." In 1991, he convinced the federal government to forgive $10 million in debts owed by Bain & Co., a deal that helped prevent his company from failing and ultimately made him millions of dollars. Via Nexis, here's a story about it published on October 25, 1994 in The Boston Globe:

Republican Senate nominee Mitt Romney's rescue of a business consulting firm was achieved in part by convincing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to forgive roughly $ 10 million of the company's debts, according to sources close to the deal and federal records obtained by The Boston Globe.

Romney, whose business acumen has been the cornerstone of his campaign, has said saving the Bain & Co. consulting firm from the brink of bankruptcy in 1991 was the accomplishment that most convinced him he had the mettle to be a US senator.

Bain & Co. and the FDIC agreed to the deal after months of intense negotiations. Moreover, bankers say debt forgiveness is relatively routine when a company is at risk of collapse.

But the $ 10 million cost to the FDIC raises the question of whether Romney's success, as well as the resurrection of Bain & Co., came partially at the expense of the federal agency that protects US bank deposits.

No doubt Mitt Romney would defend that $10 million in federal aid to Bain & Co. as having prevented the bankruptcy of his firm and as having saved hundreds of jobs. But the corollary of that argument is that Mitt Romney saved Bain & Co. with a $10 million bailout from the federal government—and given that fact, he's the last person on Earth who should be accusing anybody of crony capitalism.

Originally posted to The Jed Report on Thu Jan 05, 2012
Also republished by Daily Kos.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Iowa Caucus: Bachmann Quits

   Only days ago Michele Bachmann was saying that their would be a miracle in Iowa as far as her winning the caucus, or placing near the top. This was even though she was not placing all to well in the polling conducted by many pollsters.

    As you all know by now, Bachmann gave up the ghost after garnering only a measly 5% of the Iowa vote. I believe that the miracle was that this pathetic creature got as much as that 5% in the first place, and it is a sad state of affairs in Iowa when one thinks of the fact that there are at least 5% of the citizens who are as ding-batty as Bachmann is.

   Anyway, she is out of the GOP race, and she can now go back to Minnesota to continue helping her husband to “ pray away the gay “ while getting federal funds to do so.

   I take it that Michele didn’t get the memo from God telling her that he had changed His mind about wanting her to run for  President. You know, the same thing that befell Herman Cain.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Upper Elite: Democracy No Longer Required

   The following was posted on December 19,2011 by gjohnsit at Daily Kos. A video which was with the post is not included due to technical problems, I guess.

   This is an informative look at just how much power the banking system holds over governments throughout the world when it comes to getting their wishes completed.

"the marriage between capitalism and democracy is over."
-  Slavoj Zizek

   Politics is never in a static state. It is always in transition.
Thousands of years ago Aristotle wrote how monarchies become aristocracies, become tyrannies, become democracies, become monarchies, and so forth.

  The United States, being both a young country AND one of the oldest continuous democracies, doesn't have the cultural maturity to see the change when it approaches.
   For instance, Americans are still in denial how the country went from being a democracy to an Empire in 1945.

  We are also in denial about the changes the political economy has underwent since the early 1990's.
I use the term "political economy" because that was what the study of economics was called until about a century ago. It's what Adam Smith and David Ricardo studied.
   The fact that the study of economics fails to take politics into account today is probably its biggest reason why it has become a
total failure.

In the middle ages nations used to default on their debts all the time. The reason is because the major banks of the days lent money to the monarchies, not to the nations themselves.

As James Steuart explained in 1767, royal borrowings remained private affairs rather than truly public debts. For a sovereign’s debts to become binding upon the entire nation, elected representatives had to enact the taxes to pay their interest charges.
By giving the people a voice in their nation's affairs, they also took on the responsibilities. No longer did creditors have to worry about their loans being canceled when a king died or was overthrown.
   Capitalists backing democracy became strictly a wise business decision.

  However, it was never a real alliance. The primary interest of capitalists was to get their money back, with interest, and to gather power unto themselves. For instance, they have never supported real democracy, because democracies tend to support ideas that are for the greater good of the most people.
   For instance, for the last century popular (and short-lived) governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America that tried to introduce much-needed land reforms were quickly labeled "communist" and overthrown by CIA agents, the local aristocracy, and the Marines (if all else fails).
  Nevertheless, the financiers of the world allowed modest social programs and reforms (within limits) in the name of battling a much greater threat to their wealth and power - communism. Through their fully-owned media outlets and think tanks, they constantly pushed the idea that capitalism and democracy were one and the same.

  Sometimes, like in America, the propaganda works.
Remember in the days after 9/11? The first-responders, the firemen and policemen of America, were heroes of the right-wing. Brave and selfless.
   Once push came to shove with the economic meltdown in 2008, those very same first responders were now "parasites living off the public dole". At least to the right-wing. Their bravery and selflessness was completely forgotten.

  With the fall of the Soviet Union, that threat ended. The primary reason to endorse democracy ended. Now they only desire compliance. Now they only endorse the appearance of democracy.
   You are allowed to vote, but only if your vote doesn't matter.

  The ongoing global debt crisis has exposed this for all to see.

The overthrow of democracy in Europe

  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou made a HUGE mistake.
When confronted with the latest round of austerity the financial leaders wanted to impose on his tiny country, he decided to hold a
referendum with the Greek people.
   There was an immediate
revolt within his country, in the rest of the Europe, and in the financial markets. The people of Greece couldn't be trusted to do the "right thing".

  The referendum idea was scrapped three days later. Less than a week after that he was pushed out of office for making the foolish choice of actually using democracy to make a decision.
unelected technocrat from Goldman Sachs was put in his place. Someone the bankers could trust.

The bankers had spoken.
   They weren't going to let democracy get in the way of their profits again.
The last time they made that mistake,
Iceland voters rejected a generation-long future of debt peonage to foreign banks.

   The bankers then put another Goldman Sachs man in power in Italy. However, with the debt crisis spreading, installing unelected technocrats in every country to push through "reforms" that weren't in the public's interest was inefficient and a little too obvious.
   For starters, the bankers need to keep up the appearances of democracy, and that is hard to do while you are overthrowing democratic governments.
   Secondly, other governments weren't falling into line. They actually had the nerve to stand to the banks. This time it was

The currency’s 40 percent slump against the franc has raised repayment costs, pushing mortgage arrears to a two-decade high and prompting Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to brand the loans “debt slavery.”
To help homeowners, Orban imposed currency losses on banks including Erste Group Bank AG and Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI) that may total 900 million euros ($1.2 billion), according to Cristina Marzea, an analyst at Barclays Capital. Faced with the risk Orban would impose further measures, lenders have offered to accept $2.2 billion of additional losses if the government promised to take no further action. If it doesn’t, banks are threatening they may withdraw from the country...
    Almost 18 months after Orban was elected in April 2010, he passed a law allowing Hungarians to repay mortgages denominated in foreign currencies at discount of about 25 percent to today’s exchange rate. As long as a client applies before Dec. 31 and repays the entire loan before Feb. 28, the banks have to make up the difference.
    “I paid it back last week,” Bod said. “I’m free of debt slavery,” said the former industry minister. The plan “is easy to explain from a political viewpoint. It’s cheap for the government, expensive for the banks, good for voters.”
  Make no mistake - this is a large step beyond what Iceland has done. This is a government that is helping the working class at the expense of the bankers.
   This is a threat to the status quo and to bank profits. The
EU and IMF have broken off talks with Hungary in response to this defiance.
  Hungary's deficit is below the treaty imposed limit of 3% of GDP and their current account is in surplus. It'll be hard to justify the IMF and EU cracking down on them.

   Hungary, by standing up for their citizens against the international bankers and forcing them to take losses, could be setting a precedent. You can be sure that the rest of eastern Europe is watching closely.
    So bankers have decided to take a different strategy - using a
less democratic institution.

A new treaty to impose tighter discipline among the 17 nations in the European Union that use the euro will come into force once nine countries approve it, according to a draft released Friday. That potentially reduces the threat that disapproval by one nation could scuttle the pact.
    The treaty is intended to help improve confidence in the euro by tightening the coordination of the 17 euro zone economies, requiring nations to balance their budgets and cut debt.
The EU has never been able to make changes in its constitution unless ALL the nations agreed to the change.
    Now they want to dump that democratic tradition because without severe austerity and sacrifice by the working class, the bankers can't be assured of being fully compensated on their leveraged bets.
   Fortunately, this treaty change is being fought by the governments of
Hungary and the Czech Republic.

End Game

  Make no mistake - the efforts by the bankers to usurp democracy in order to defend their huge gambling debts will ultimately fail.
   With every public bailout they simply double-down their bets. This can't be sustained. Unpayable debts won't be paid. The only question now is how much damage will they do before the global economy crumbles around them, or before the public stands up to the oligarchy, whichever comes first?

  I don't know how this will all play out. We are talking the politics of dozens of countries. Chances are the end results will be uneven.
   But I can say that the gloves are coming off. The pretense of democracy is vanishing, and the oligarchy is pulling out all the stops.

  What the public needs to do is to do nothing more than to stop listening to the propaganda and read a little history.

This appropriation of the economic surplus to pay bankers is turning the traditional values of most Europeans upside down. Imposition of economic austerity, dismantling social spending, sell-offs of public assets, de-unionization of labor, falling wage levels, scaled-back pension plans and health care in countries subject to democratic rules requires convincing voters that there is no alternative. It is claimed that without a profitable banking sector (no matter how predatory) the economy will break down as bank losses on bad loans and gambles pull down the payments system. No regulatory agencies can help, no better tax policy, nothing except to turn over control to lobbyists to save banks from losing the financial claims they have built up.

What banks want is for the economic surplus to be paid out as interest, not used for rising living standards, public social spending or even for new capital investment. Research and development takes too long. Finance lives in the short run. This short-termism is self-defeating, yet it is presented as science. The alternative, voters are told, is the road to serfdom: interfering with the “free market” by financial regulation and even progressive taxation.

There is an alternative, of course. It is what European civilization from the 13th-century Schoolmen through the Enlightenment and the flowering of classical political economy sought to create: an economy free of unearned income, free of vested interests using special privileges for “rent extraction.”

Originally posted to gjohnsit on Mon Dec 19, 2011
Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat, Money and Public Purpose, and The Amateur Left.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Conservativism, Compassion, and Cruelty: A Response to David Brooks

by Peter Dreier

Published on Monday, January 2, 2012 by Huffington Post

Through a story of personal tragedy and the virtues of small-town life, voluntarism, and compassion, the New York Times' David Brooks has written a column that unwittingly exposes our nation's outrageous cruelty and callousness.

In his December 30 column, "Going Home Again," Brooks tells the story of Ruthie Leming, a school teacher and mother of three daughters in St. Francisville, Louisiana (population 1,765), who last year, at age 40, was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer. Brooks understandably laments the tragedy and applauds Ruthie's community, which rallied around her and her family as her health deteriorated.

"There were cookouts to raise money for her medical care," Brooks reports. On April 10 last year -- officially "Ruthie Leming Day" -- "more than half the town went to a fund-raising concert" to help pay her medical expenses.

Brooks describes other ways that Leming's friends and neighbors came to her aid. At the fundraising concert, for example, someone brought a camper trailer "so Ruthie would have a place to rest and take oxygen." And when Leming died on September 15 of this year, "more than 1,000 people signed the guest book at the funeral." Brooks quotes Ruthie's husband Mike, an Iraq war veteran and a fireman, whose friends helped him get through the tragedy. "We're leaning, but we're leaning on each other," he said. Each year on Christmas eve, Ruthie and her mother would put candles on the graves in the local cemetery. But her mother couldn't bring herself to do it this year. When she drove by the cemetery, however, the candle flames were aglow; one of Ruthie and Mike's neighbors had taken it upon herself to maintain the tradition. "They will never know what this meant to me," the mother said.

Brooks learned about Ruthie Leming's story from his friend Rod Dreher, her brother, who writes and blogs for The American Conservative magazine "The outpouring -- an eruption, really -- of goodness and charity from the people of our town has been quite simply stunning," Dreher wrote. "The acts of aid and comfort have been ceaseless, often reducing our parents to tears of shock and awe."

After experiencing the warmth of the tight-knit community, Dreher decided to move from the Philadelphia area back to St. Francisville, where he grew up but hadn't lived since he left for college. "I thought, 'Even with all the sadness, there's no place else in the world I'd rather be."

Brooks uses this story as a parable about the virtues of what he calls "communitarian conservativism," which he contrasts with "free market" conservativism. Brooks favors both, but laments that the former version -- which he identifies as rooted in "small towns, traditions, and community" -- has gotten less attention.

The support that Ruthie Leming got from her friends and neighbors is indeed heartwarming. Of course, neighborliness and compassion are not unique to small towns. Nor are acts of cruelty and mean-spiritedness confined to big cities. There is plenty of crime, domestic violence, bigotry, and racial and economic tension in rural America.

But as Brooks extols his vision of compassionate conservatism, he casually and conveniently passes over the major outrage of Ruthie Leming's last year on earth -- the fact that her community had to hold fundraisers so her family could pay her medical bills. Brooks wasn't writing a column about health care policy, but implicit in his story is the notion that charity is an adequate substitute for government regulation or funding to meet basic needs.

In no other civilized nation would the Leming family face this double tragedy of debilitating illness and deep debt. Indeed, people in other well-off countries view America's lack of universal health care as cruel and barbaric, as indeed it is.

Charity is a good thing. People will always face tragic circumstances where compassion -- by individuals and by entire communities -- can relieve suffering. As Oliver Zunz points out in his new book, Philanthropy in America, voluntary giving -- by the very rich and by ordinary people -- can benefit society, especially when it is used to support the extra things that government cannot fully support, such as museums, symphonies, theater, and Little League. But conservatives romanticize charity (which former President George H. W. Bush called "a thousand points of light") when they view it as a substitute for government support, and argue that voluntary donations and good will gestures can adequately raise funds for K-12 education, feed the hungry, house the homeless, or pay for medicine, hospitals, and doctors' bills.

The real "community"-wide solution to our health care crisis is universal insurance, which can only be achieved with government setting the rules and providing subsidies.

Exorbitant medical bills are the biggest cause of personal bankruptcies and home foreclosure. In recent years, health care profits -- for drug and insurance companies, in particular -- have soared, while more and more Americans found themselves without any health insurance at all or (like Ruthie and Mike Leming) with inadequate insurance that didn't cover their medical bills. As part of their standard business model, insurance companies calculated which Americans were expensive to cover and refused to provide coverage to those people who had what they euphemistically called "pre-existing conditions."

Last year the nation took a step forward in addressing these problems with a health reform law that requires every American to have insurance, provides subsidies for those who can't afford it, and restricts insurance companies from discriminating against sick people. While America was debating health care reform, the insurance companies, big business, and the Republican Party spent tens of millions of dollars -- in TV ads, campaign contributions, and lobbying -- to oppose and weaken the bill. Now every Republican candidate for president has pledged to dismantle what they call "Obamacare" before it even has been fully implemented.

It is a great reflection on the generosity of the people of St. Francisville, and an awful reflection on American society, that at their time of greatest need, Ruthie and Mike Leming had to rely on donations to stave off financial ruin. In what kind of society do we allow teachers and firefighters to rely on charity to help pay their medical bills?

© 2011 Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College. He is coauthor of Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and American Prospect.


Google, Facebook, Amazon Planning Internet Blackout to Protest "Big Brother" SOPA Bill

Posted at December 31, 2011 By Lauren Kelley | Sourced from AlterNet

The debate over SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) has pitted Hollywood executives and the Republican-supported Chamber of Commerce against, well, basically everyone who enjoys the free and open internet, with critics saying that the legislation could lead to widespread internet censorship.

Among those critics are major websites like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, which are considering imposing an internet "blackout" in protest of the bill. The Daily Mail reports:

The battle over the SOPA bill has seen leading web firms square off against Hollywood media companies in a trade-off between internet freedom and intellectual property rights.

Now it could burst into the open as technology giants are planning to 'censoring' their own homepages, according to a leading internet lobby group.

Sites such as Google, Amazon and Facebook could temporarily replace their usual homepage with a black screen and a message asking users to contact politicians and urge them to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act.

The move could come as early as January 24, when the bill is due to be debated in the House of Representatives.

One of the only major web companies to have supported SOPA is GoDaddy, which was shamed into reversing its support after throngs of customers (including heavy hitters like Wikipedia) moved their domain names elsewhere.

Read more about the background of the bill at the Daily Mail.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Iris Scan Identification Systems: The New Gold Rush?

By Cartoon Peril              Tue Dec 27, 2011

There's a thing called global biometrics industry. As with any "global" industry, there's good reason to be suspicious of it.  Largely parasitic on governments, the industry has devised ocular (eyeball-based) ID systems, of which there are two very different methods, the iris scan and the retinal scan, with the iris scan far more prevalent, and projected to be the most common identification technology in 2020.

   The iris is a muscle that forms the colored portion of the eye and it controls the amount of light that enters the eye by regulating the size of the pupil.  Iris imaging requires use of a high quality digital camera that illuminates the iris using near-infrared light.  The Ministry of Homeland Security (.PDF 8/12/2010) claims that these cameras can take these photographs without causing harm or discomfort to the individual.  

For some time now the ministry has been conducting its "Iris and Face Technology Demonstration and Evaluation (IFTDE)" project.  Current testing is being done on two basic scenarios, first,  fixed subjects (standing in front of a fixed or hand-held camera)  and second, and perhaps more ominously, walking near a camera while walking through a portal.

While one might expect a kind  of Minority Report scenario, in fact the technology for implementing iris scanning is highly vulnerable to attack through numerous means.  Of course, this has not prevented the various parasitical contractors pushing the technology from selling it like Professor Harold Hill's band instruments to the good citizens of River City, Iowa.

Of course, all of this is concealed in a smoke screen of jargon, which I will hope to unravel below the Squiggle of Doom.

Basic features of all ID systems
All identification systems depend on two phases: enrollment and authentication

Enrollment is the process of gathering identifying information, and linking it in a reliable way to a particular individual.  Enrollment can be done by any means, and it is as old as the Roman Empire, as it will be recalled that Joseph and Mary were required to travel to Bethlehem to be enrolled for the purposes of the Roman census. 

In modern times a birth certificate is proof that one's birth was enrolled on the official state registry, necessary to establish eligibility for citizenship, social security, etc.  Most people as they grow older enroll themselves in other identification databases, for school, driver's licenses, passports, etc., with the birth certificate being required for enrollment into these registries, and as a practical matter, the credentials issued as a result of these enrollments (driver's license, passport, etc.) take the place of the birth certificate for practical purposes.

Authentication determines whether there's match between the credentials presented with a record within the enrolled registry. Biometrics is simply a means of bypassing the credentials step of the authentication process. Person A may forge credentials in the name of person B.  However, as a general matter, A will have difficulty imitating the fingerprints of B. 

If B's fingerprints are in an enrolled database, and A's prints can be captured and compared to the enrolled prints, the verifying authority is no longer dependent on credentials during the authentication phase.  A's imposture of B can be detected by direct biometric comparison. 

Iris scans are biometrics as well.  Assuming accurate image capture the captured image must be compared to an "enrolled database" of iris scan images.   See here for a demonstration.  Without the database, the iris scans, even if accurate, are useless for government operations.  
Deployment scenarios
Iris scanning technology has been deployed in numerous environments, such as:
* At an
elementary school in New Jersey, with the excuse that it is necessary to prevent the children from being abducted.  This was funded, of course, by a federal grant of $369,000.

* In Iraq by the U.S. military to assemble a database of 3 million people

* in about 20 U.S. airports from 2005 to 2008 to identify passengers in the Registered Traveler program, who could skip to the front of security lines.

* In Leon, Mexico, a city of 1 million people, Global Rainmakers (now Hoyos Corp.) claims it will provide iris technology for the "secure city initiative".  The system is to be used on ATM transactions, ordinary purchases in stories, or boarding a bus.  Persons charged or convicted of offenses will apparently constitute the enrolled database against which persons engaging in ordinary activities are to be compared.  

    Iris scanning at a distance
According to an
article (9/13/2010) in USA Today, the Ministry of Homeland Security intended then to "test cameras that take photos from 3 or 4 feet away, including one that works on people as they walk by."  The great advantage of this system to the authority collecting the information would be that the fact the persons scanned would not readily perceive that they were being scanned.  Widespread scanning of this nature, called "scanning of local populations" has never been perfected.  So far, the best that has been done is that tests have been done on people going through designated portals.

Weaknesses in the system
There are numerous problems with the system,
this article (09/10/2010) provides a good summary.  Notable among the defects is the fact that iris matching, unlike fingerprinting, cannot be done by human beings; that is, outside of the obvious question of eye color, no human has been shown to be able to determine whether a particular image of an iris matches another iris image.  Even the computers are not able to do this, and they express only a probability, not a certainty.

Unattended authentication systems can be overcome by presentation of a high quality photograph of a person previously enrolled in the database.  This is called the "live-tissue" problem.  (Source: Meghanathan, 14-15).  This mechanism of attack is called a "spoof attack."  While there are supposedly means (at least theory) by which an unattended system can detect a spoof attack, if these are effective, this has not been reported.

More dangerous than a spoof attack is the possible compromise of the collection media or database.  It must be recalled that the iris scan is stored in electronic digital media, and if this electronic media can be compromised, the system could be overcome via false authentication on a one-time basis, and perhaps the entire system could be reverse-engineered. 

For a true nation-wide system to be constructed would require an enrollment database of over 300 million persons and would take many years to construct.  Widespread enrollment and authentication points would open the system up to attack at multiple points, and no iris-scanning system has ever involved protection on such a scale.  This would require an electronic Maginot line.

Social acceptance
Social acceptance of the enrollment process is critical to success.  Meghanathan (reference below) assigns the following levels of social acceptability to the collection of five biometric identifiers: face: best; fingerprint: average; hand geometry: average; Iris scan: poor; signature: best; voice: best.  Curiously, the Environmental Protection Agency however claims that the enrollment photography phase for the iris scan "generally has a high level of user acceptance". (

Deployments of iris scanning have generally been limited to circumstances where there was a high degree of shared interest (employees, for example) among the persons enrolled in the database, as well as a strong discrete benefit to be derived from the provision of an accurate enrollment image.  Under these circumstances, acceptance of the iris scan would be readily given. 

Outside of wartime conditions, iris scanning has not yet been deployed on a nation-wide basis (other than the U.A.E.), and social acceptance here has never been tested.

Limits of the technological "solutions"

   In the deployment at the elementary school, social acceptance was overcome by the threat of strangers obtaining access to the school and abducting children.  But social acceptance could also be overcome by deploying the enrollment on young children -- you'll notice on the linked video that the scanner is at a child's height.  The danger of course here is that the technological panacea does not and cannot address the fact that children are much more likely to be hurt or abducted by someone known to the child than a stranger.  For $369,000, the cost of the system, one could quite likely design a child safety program run by actual human beings which would have a much greater impact upon the most likely threats against children.

As we see with much of the technological devices ballyhoe'd as a solution to "security" issues, this is in fact a solution in search of a problem.  For example, is it a problem in Leon, Mexico (or any other country) in the world, that the government does not positively know the identity of every person boarding a bus?  Admittedly there have been bombings on buses, but would such bombings have been prevented?  Even on 9/11 itself, all the hijackers boarded the airplanes under their own names. 

Because of the various weaknesses of the iris scan, outside of some very irresponsible manufacturer demonstration videos, it is never thought of as sufficient by itself to be used as an electronic identification, and it is always seen in combination with fingerprints and facial recognition technology.  Hence, construction of any national system would depend to a great degree on developments in these other areas as well.

Given all of this, the only reason I can see for the current faddish emphasis on the iris scan is the get rich quick gold rush atmosphere of the contractor-dominated security state.

Additional sources:
* Meghanathan, Natarajan,
Biometric Systems for User Authentication, International Journal of Information Processing and Management(IJIPM) Volume2,Number4,October 2011. (.pdf)
* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
Security Products Guide, including in particular Biometrics Recognition.  (The EPA has been one of the principal floggers of electronic security measures, for example, as security measures for water systems -- one senses the hand of the contractor-captured government here.)

Originally posted to Cartoon Peril on Tue Dec 27, 2011
Also republished by Community Spotlight.