Wherever I go, I discover how few people have heard the term “social impact bonds” and for those who have, they usually have received little more than the glossy sales pitch offered by social impact bonds snake oil salesman, and so assume they are a good thing. Here is a list of a few scholars who look under the hood of the glossy sales pitch and reveal some important but little known facts about this effort to recolonize public (mostly urban) spaces. Like its predecessor, charter schools, social impact bonds market themselves as the “saviour” to communities of color that have suffered under decades of racist policies and austerity measures. Like charters, here is the problem marketing itself as the solution. Can we learn ahead of the curve this time? While my “go to” sites are www.wrenchinthegears.com by Alison McDowell and Data Disruptors, its important to have multiple sources and to appreciate that our critique of this financial scheme is well documented and researched. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? And … Why the “crickets” from education persons and groups who have large audiences and social media presence? Please click to read to learn, and better yet, click to read to share.

https://janresseger.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/social-impact-bonds-pay-for-success-yet-another-form-of-privatization/

Social Impact Bonds (Pay for Success): Yet Another Privatization Scam – janresseger

https://vimeo.com/212972876  (minute 29)

 

Race, Finance, And The Afterlife Of Slavery on Vimeo

 

https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/social-impact-bonds-work-rhode-island-opposed

Rhode Island Union: Social Impact Bonds Are About Greed, Not Good – Next City

https://seattleducation.com/2017/10/03/social-impact-bonds-a-primer/

Social Impact Bonds — a Primer – Seattle Education

https://policyandpoliticsblog.com/2018/03/21/profiting-from-pain-social-impact-bonds-and-social-policy/

Profiting from Pain: social impact bonds and social policy – Policy and Politics Journal


https://dissidentvoice.org/2016/11/social-impact-bonds-the-titans-of-finance-as-the-altruistic-merchants-of-schooling-and-the-common-good/

Social Impact Bonds: The Titans of Finance as the Altruistic Merchants of Schooling and the Common Good | Dissident Voice

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09502386.2015.1017137?src=recsys&journalCode=rcus20

Bonded Life: Technologies of racial finance from slave insurance to philanthrocapital: Cultural Studies: Vol 29, No 5-6

Image result for detecting emotional changes in chinese workers with data

(China is monitoring the brain activity of employees in its state-run firms. The technology works by placing wireless sensors in workers’ hats that when combined with AI can spot workplace anxiety or depression. Pictured is a version installed in the cap visors of train drivers Pic courtesy. )

While many would agree this report from China is disturbing …( One snippet from the longer articles states: “Workers outfitted in uniforms staff lines producing sophisticated equipment for telecommunication and other industrial sectors. But there’s one big difference – the workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves, data that management then uses to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows, according to the company. The company said it could increase the overall efficiency of the workers by manipulating the frequency and length of break times to reduce mental stress.”)  …

… if you share this report with most people, they will reply, “Well, that’s China. This is a democracy. It will never happen here.”

What if it already is? What if I were to hide all the identifying information from any of the reports posted below, would you really be able to tell which one was talking about China and which one was talking about public education in America?

At some juncture we have to accept things are they are really happening and not as we wish them to be. The primary source reports (two examples shared below) from organizations and institutions right here in the good ol’ USA speak for themselves. Then compare this with the report from China.

  1. From the Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: Critical factors for Success report published by the U.S> Office of Educational Technology in 2013 (the link to the website is no longer available. Fortunately I saved it on my hard drive. You can read the report here.) The report says, “Examples of affective computing methods are growing. Mcquiggan, Lee, and Lester (2007) have used data mining techniques as well as physiological response data from a biofeedback apparatus that measures blood volume, pulse, and galvanic skin response to examine student frustration in an online learning environment, Crystal Island. Woolf, Burleson, Arroyo, Dragon, Cooper and Picard (2009) have been detecting affective indicators within an online tutoring system Wayang Outpost using four sensor systems, as illustrated in Exhibit 11. Sensors provide constant, parallel streams of data and are used with data mining techniques and self-report measures to examine frustration, motivation/flow, confidence, boredom, and fatigue. The MIT Media Lab Mood Meter (Hernandez, Hoque, & Picard, n.d.) is a device that can be used to detect emotion (smiles) among groups. The Mood Meter includes a camera and a laptop. The camera captures facial expressions, and software on the laptop extracts geometric properties on faces (like distance between corner lips and eyes) to provide a smile intensity score. While this type of tool may not be necessary in a small class of students, it could be useful for examining emotional responses in informal learning environments for large groups, like museums. The field of neuroscience also offers methods for insight into some of the psychological resources associated with grit, especially effortful control. Using neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, it is possible to examine which parts of the brain are active during times of anxiety or stress and the effects of some interventions. For example, Slagter, Davidson, and Lutz (2011) have investigated the effects of systematic mental training and meditation to enhance cognitive control and maintain optimal levels of arousal. Motivation was found to be associated with greater activation in multiple brain regions. Moreover, studies have reported functional and structural changes in the brain and improved performance of long-term practitioners of mindfulness and concentration meditation techniques that enhance attentional focus. These initial findings are promising evidence of the cognitive plasticity and malleability of brain functioning for processes related to grit. While it is impractical to use fMRI in the classroom (i.e., it is a prohibitively expensive, room-sized machine), Ed Dieterle and Ash Vasudeva of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation point out that researchers such as Jon Gabrieli and Richard Davidson are beginning to use multiple methods to explore how specific brain activity is correlated with other cognitive and affective indicators that are practical to measure in school settings.”

Exhibit 11.  Four parallel streams of affective sensors used while a student is engaged in Wayang Outpost, an online tutoring system

OETpic.jpg

2. New education devices from Brain Co. seen advertised here in a scary video.  According to a PR report on Brain Co, “Focus 1 is a wearable headband that detects and quantifies students’ attention levels in the classroom. It works in conjunction with Focus EDU, the world’s first classroom portal for teachers to assess the effectiveness of their teaching methods in real time and make adjustments accordingly.”

brainco

(image link)

But wait! There’s more. According to one report, “Increasing engagement in class isn’t the only way BrainCo plans to sell its product. According to Newlon, the startup hopes to secure approval from the US Food & Drug Administration to use the headset for ADHD therapy.”

Yes … it CAN happen here. While China has ordered 20,000 devices already, Brain Co reps say “Our goal with the first 20,000 devices, each of which will be used by multiple students in schools, is to capture data from 1.2 million people … This will enable us to use artificial intelligence on what will be the world’s largest database to improve our algorithms for things like attention and emotion detection.” While BrainCo has not yet established any policies that guide (or prevent) the company from using data collected from U.S. students, the company intends to “use [headset] data for a number of different things,” according to Newlon.

 

A New Campaign!

Posted: May 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

http://classroomsnotcomputers.org/

Technology is replacing teachers, Classrooms and students are becoming pipelines of data collection for the profit of private corporate interests. As we saw with the news about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, we know that “he who owns the data rules the world”. Through powerful lobbying tech companies are transforming education. Technology that gathers information from students are replacing person-to-person interaction with teachers and ending hands on learning. The personal data students are forced (unknowingly) to provide these companies, is a gold mine of private information about our children.

We want to end the invasive corporate control of students, schools, and communities being pushed in the name of technology. We want to create actions to eliminate the mining, tracking, and surveillance of student data by government and corporate entities.

The outcomes of this campaign (one personal, one more social/public) are 1. Protect our individual children/students from corporate surveillance, and 2. Dismantle corporate-led education policies that place public education into the hands of private corporate interests intended toward greater social surveillance and control.

There are two problems we address. First, is to identify and share what the problem is (it’s complicated). Two, the problem is too big (technology is everywhere! How can we fight this?)

The problem is larger than the focus of this campaign alone (read more at datadisruptors.com).

(Image courtesy of Alison McDowell)

Dear County Council Members,

I am writing on behalf of concerned BCPS parents regarding the newest rounds of BCPS policy involving STAT (specially the leasing of 1:1 devices, the amount of assessment and instructional time spent on devices, and data privacy).

  • We, the community, know there is something fundamentally wrong with the increased push toward technology based instruction and assessments in lieu of human and collaborative interactions. Yet, our voices are being ignored.
  • There is no data to suggest that moving away from existing models of instruction and assessment and toward (so called) “personalized” device driven instruction is any better for children.
  • There is ample evidence suggesting that the switch toward more online providers for teaching and learning are driven by economics (saving money for the district and profits for the companies who lobbied for the policies) thus outing money over human health and well-being. The people directly involved with education technology industry and policy are quick to tell you that every child “needs” 21st century skills, that they “need” to be educated more and more via online methods. Yet, they have NO evidence to show this is in fact “necessary.” So ask….WHY? It’s on YOU, the BCPS policy makers to pause and ask yourselves this question.

Because here’s what we DO know. Online device-driven instruction leads to:

  • Increased risks of obesity-increased seat time
  • Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  • Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

http://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/health/excessive-screen-time-may-hurt-a-child-s-ability-to-understand-emotions-study-1.1972211

Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/28/343735856/kids-and-screen-time-what-does-the-research-say

  • Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

“Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=

  • Loss of data privacy = online platforms delivered to third party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. My child is not an unwilling consumer forced to share private information simply because a private company (like Pearson or KIPP) has been made an LEA.
  • Increases ADHD-like symptoms. “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=
  • An adrenaline driven mentality to learning (like addiction). As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain

So please, as you decide to vote to spend more monies on technology (simply because it seems like the “in” thing or “cool” thing to do because well, “everybody’s doing it”) consider this: Years from now, after learning has been destroyed for a generation of our children because of the lack of thought you put into the decisions you are making for them today, you may find yourselves taking a stand. We, the community will be demanding  from you an account for your ignorance and negligence in the face of facts, concerns, and plain common sense which we are presenting to you today. If we learn from anything from history its how not to repeat the same mistakes. Don’t destroy a generation of our children for the sake of politics and power. Schools should not be a pipeline of profit (and surveillance) between our children’s data and corporations. Be better than that. Hit the pause button and learn the facts before making decisions that will lead to irreparable harm for our children and our public schools.

Sincerely,

 

Morna McDermott McNulty

BCPS parent and Professor of Education, Towson University

(picture courtesy of Alison McDowell)

Social Impact Bonds and Baltimore

What is a SIB?

In an era of tight public budgets, private and philanthropic organizations increasingly are underwriting public services through impact investments, which support a social good while also generating a financial return. In one form of impact investing, pay for success (PFS), an organization (typically a government) sets specific targets that another organization, such as a service provider or intermediary, must meet in return for payments. Private and philanthropic investors supply the upfront capital that service providers use in exchange for a capped rate of return derived from the payments. The payments, however, are released only if the desired targets are successfully met, which must be verified by an independent evaluator.

Or put another way: Social impact bonds, which many are now calling pay for success programs, work like this: Private funders pay a government to establish a preventative social program aimed at achieving a certain measurable result. The only way investors get their money back is if the program meets those results.

Sounds great. What could go wrong ….right?

Well for starters, the logic of Campbell’s Law (after Donald T. Campbell): “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Watch this video by Alison McDowell for a full explanation of how social impact bonds will harm children and communities. McDowell writes: “Many cities are considering using Social impact bonds or pay for success programs to expand access to universal pre-k. As a result pre-k programs are becoming increasingly data-driven and technology dependent. Intrusive programs like TS Gold are building student “growth” profiles that could ultimately be used to evaluate social impact bond deals by third parties. Access to imaginative play, manipulatives and physical activity will be reduced as more and more device- mediated activities come into classrooms. Education is remade to serve the needs of big data.”

SIBs can be found as part of the new federal legislation ESSA Title I, Part D, (“Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk”) and in Title IV, Part A, (“Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants,” section 4108, “Activities to Support Safe and Healthy Students”) of the new bill.

Strive Together and Baltimore’s Promise are a key example of how Social Impact Bonds and Pay for Success models will seep their way into the Baltimore infrastructure. Baltimore’s Promise website says, “To this end, we utilize a Collective Impact model in which stakeholders from different sectors have made a long-term commitment to support comprehensive solutions to complex issues through structured collaboration. Service providers, policy makers, funders, and community leaders are building upon the success of individual organizations to collectively improve education and health outcomes for Baltimore City’s youth while also creating broader, sustainable impact.”

Collective impact is code for social impact– just in case you weren’t sure.

According to their website: “Baltimore’s Promise is a member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, a national network of communities working to improve education success for every child through a data-driven, quality collective impact approach.”

According to Emily Talmage: StriveTogether also favors the use of Social Impact Bonds, which allow investors to lend money for social programs with repayment contingent upon highly questionable and easily manipulated monetized outcomes. In Salt Lake City, for example, a Social Impact Bond initiative led by StriveTogether resulted in a drastic and highly controversial reduction in the number of kindergarten children receiving special education services. Like all corporate ed reform ideas, it’s not difficult to see how these “cradle to career” experiments will benefit investors at the expense of local community members.

 One cite says “Rallying non-profit, government, business, and philanthropic leaders around one community issue is a complex task that often requires its own set of preconditions. A trigger event – whether a community crisis, the release of new data, or a new funding opportunity – can generate a sense of urgency and motivate leaders from multiple sectors to take action.”

Yes…a trigger event in the form of a crisis does create urgency. Milton Freidman, the godfather of free market privatization said “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Naomi Klein illustrates the playbook toward privatization and colonization in The Shock Doctrine. But first, the very billionaire moguls now promising to “rescue” communities are the same corporate billionaires of lobbied and carried out economic practices that destroyed these communities in the first place. Please do not lose sight of who is being defined as the “hero” in this narrative. Yet we are willing to believe they actually portend good? I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn for you.

Privatization is happening in Baltimore already, especially in other public sectors such as housing.

In addition to working directly with Baltimore’s Promise, Annie E Casey Foundation has left a trail of privatization and colonization of Baltimore’s urban spaces in its wake. This how they work, It’s how they will continue to treat people in these same communities. One blog writes:

Similar to the way the DAPL planned its route through indigenous peoples’ land without consulting with them, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions planned its recent 88-acre Bioscience Park without consultation with the neighbors who would be displaced to make room for the developmentAfter acquiring the land and demolishing buildings through the support of government, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and its proxy East Baltimore Development Inc (EBDI), the shiny new buildings and facilities are slowly being erected- two new biotech buildings, a bioethic institute, a new school, a new hotel, a 7-acre park, luxury and moderate-income ownership housing, and moderate and low-income rental housing.

The members of directors Baltimore’s Promise have as their ideology a belief in the value of transferring public good into private (profit driven) hands. For example Ron Daniels 2014-present Member, Baltimore’s Promise Board of Directors, writes research with titles such as: “Private Provision of Public Infrastructure: An Organization Analysis of the Next Privatization Frontier,” Ronald J. Daniels and Michael J. Trebilcock (Summer 1996) 46 University of Toronto Law Journal 375-426.

SIB’s mean greater surveillance. Speaking to the impact investing in Philadelphia, Alison McDowell writes: “Central to this method are outcomes-based government contracts that employ Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds to extract profit from those enmeshed in oppressive social systems. Technology is key to this strategy, as “impact” data must be seamlessly collected for cheap, scalable deal evaluation. This, along with the rise of IoT monitoringBig Databehavioral science (economics-nudge) interventions, gamification, and blockchain digital ID (many of which are being researched at UPenn) will lead to the platform delivery of human services, including but not limited to public education, over the next decade. See also tele-healthtele-therapyVR counselingprescription video-gaming, etc.”

Of course, Baltimore schools and communities need help. They need support. There are existing inequities and oppressive systemic problems that must be eliminated. However, Pay for Success, Social Impact Bonds, and corporate colonization are not the solutions. They are the bait and switch. As McDowell says “Needing help should not mean you have to be digitally profiled for someone’s profit. MBA impact venture capitalists should not get to benefit from the deep poverty so many experience.”

Dr. Schneider agrees.

“Pay for Success — a name that has ‘do whatever it takes to garner a profit’ in its shadow– is an open door for the exploitation of students, particularly subgroups of students who do not usually score well on tests,” she said. “It is just another testament to the nouveau status quo that market-based reform will drive up testing metrics, and that America should entrust its children to that market.”

Susan recognized the sound of the footsteps coming near her before she even saw his figure turn the corner. Her heart seized up instinctively. She placed the paint brush in the jar and stood, frozen, waiting to see his face. Would he look the same? Did she look the same? Self consciously she ran her hand along her braids and pulled a few strands forward. It had been a long day, working on the mural at what seemed to be, in her opinion, a random empty outpost of Romer Onyx owned properties. This was the first of several mural installments she had been contracted to paint.
Her bronze arms were spackled with paint and dust. This site was a ghost town out here. Why would they bother with mural art, here? she wondered. But she dutifully did what she was instructed and had the first traces of a large 10 foot high, eight feet wide image of a flower garden emerging along the side of a grey brick wall. In two weeks they had made good progress.
Before he could disarm her with his flash of a crooked smile and perfect teeth, she frowned and said, more loudly than was necessary, “Well, I’ll be. Kelly! What on earth brings you to these hinterlands? What…did you get lost?” Anything she said just felt silly. She forced a hollow sounding laugh.
He played along. “I was in the neighborhood.”
Inwardly, she couldn’t imagine what would compel him to come out here to find her. No sign of him for years and years, and now, here he was. Out of the blue. Her bravado could not mask her fear. He smiled softly and gave a long pause. Everything inside him buckled into a heap of mixed emotions.
“It’s been too long, Susan” he said moving towards her. She froze in place and allowed him to place his arms around her. They held each other for nearly a minute. Then he pulled away and said, “But I am not here simply to say hi. There’s something very wrong.”
“But…” she stammered, recovering her senses. “How did you even know I was here?” She waved her arms around wildly.
“Keesha”, he said flatly. “She’s waiting in the car around the corner. I tried to keep the car hidden. It’s hopefully blocked from arial view where it is.”
Her confusion thickened. “Keesha? What on earth are you doing talking to Keesha? Is she in trouble?” How could she be? Susan had been keeping laser like attention on her ever since Keesha had moved in. They were together nearly all the time, painting and planning. What could Kelly know that she didn’t?
“Why isn’t she with you? Why is she waiting in the car?” He ignored this last question and jumped in. “There’s so much to tell you.”
He face was weary, older, than she remembered. “It’s Romer Onyx” he continued, glancing around as if someone might sneak up behind him at any moment. But in all directions not a single car or pedestrian had passed by all day. There was nothing around them except for this warehouse, crumbling on three sides, with boarded up windows and littered by some sparse trees refusing to die. “Let’s sit down,” he said reaching for her elbow. The feel of his fingers on her skin electrified her in ways that incited both arousal and anxiety. She pulled away and say down defiantly. He laughed to himself. The world around them might be changing but she never would. There was something immensely comforting in her consistency.
“We’ve been guarding the data pods all these years. But we were wrong. We’ve been distracted by fighting at the wrong front line. Whatever is, or was, stored in those data pods isn’t what they’re after. RO found another way to reclaim control. And Keesha, with her two faithful side kicks, Ryder and Deacon figured it out.”
“I don’t understand…” she mumbled. Susan had not overcome the shock that Kelley was even here, sitting right beside her.
He explained to her about the plans that Keesha had uncovered. “Now don’t get mad at her!” Kelley interjected before Susan could react.
“She’s been goin into my stuff….?”
“She had to!’ Kelley said. “I’m here because she sent me here to talk to you. She’s afraid you’ll be mad at her. That’s why she hung back.”
“Well, she’s damn right!”
“Ground her later, Susan!” he said, exasperated. “Right now we’ve got bigger issues.”
“How can you actually rely on anything the three of those kids tell you, Kelley? How can they be sure!”
“Because. We have had confirmation from English.”
“I haven’t seen him in ages! He’s still alive?” Susan remembered him fondly from the days on their block having summer evening cook outs. He was famous for his pulled pork.
“Well, Barely. He’s been working for R.O in the food and catering group. He was watching and listening. Two days ago he was working one of their stock holder events and he heard what they’re up to. Poor man, just fainted dead away. Fortunately Ryder was there too, impersonating a food server. He was able to rescue English before any noticed the old man went down. No one saw it but Ryder. They snuck out unnoticed. English was able to pass the information along to Pops.”

“Pops! You got that poor old man mixed up in this, too?”
“Now just hold up!” Kelley demanded. Susan looked at him startled by his tone. “Just let me finish!” He added more softly, “I know what I’m tellin you is a lot to take in. But it’s all true.”
She waited.
“So Pops sends messages through the old tunnels to Deacon who passes the information along to Ryder and Keesha.”
“What does Ryder’s mother think about all of this?”
Kelley paused, his eyes revealing guilt. “She doesn’t know.”
Susan gave a disapproving sigh. “And..?” she said indignantly.
“And….we will tell her. Eventually. We told her that Ryder was in Arizona working on the water project there. He’s been hiding with English. He’s safe. Don’t worry, He’s in the car with Keesha right now. Sometimes he stays with me and Deacon in the tunnels or anywhere else we can keep ourselves out of sight. What English heard confirms what Keesha has discovered.”
“Discovered, how?”
“By hacking your computer.”
She was too angry now to respond. He knew that expression, but he pressed forward.
“R.O has a plan to recolonize us. It doesn’t matter that we rejected their technology. It doesn’t matter that we decolonized ourselves and have become entirely self-sustaining with the help of sister cities who followed after us. The whole network of us is about to be destroyed.”
At this, Susan paused, sighed and stretched her legs out on the curb. Her anger washed away. She looked back at her emerging mural. The rich blues swirling downwards into loving spirals encircling happy yellow sunflowers. Passionate red tulips peeked through in the edges, demanding the eyes attention. So much joy. So much detail. A hopeful visage. But so much more was still left in traces, undone. Was everything she had been doing a lie?
Kelley continued. “They’ve found a way to force surveillance and control on us. They are creating an environmental catastrophe that will drive our community to the unthinkable. The community has been experiencing some strange events lately. Seismic ruptures in the ground. Loud sounds like an earth quake.”
“Keesha mentioned that to me,” Susan admitted. She hadn’t given it any mind at the time. How far had she really stuck her head in the sand?
“They’re using some sort of fracking machines, some kind of equipment, to manufacture geologic attacks on our land and our drinking water. They’re eradicating our entire infrastructure.”
“But…why?”
“Because they have a new way of forcing us to become sites of their data mining. Once we have no more clean drinking water, when our gardens begin to fail –when the water and food of all sister cities is contaminated, they can sell us those things, because we will be in such need of them.”
“So R.O. wants to make a buck by selling us food and water?” This seemed rather small and petty even for R.O.
“No, Susan. It’s more than that. The food, if you want to call it that, isn’t just food. Using GMO research, they’ve figured out how to create food that has microscopic data chips in them. Once in place, everything about that person both inside and out, can be tracked, monitored.” He paused. “And controlled.”
“How could they possibly have done the research to make this happen? How could they have tested this on willing….” Her voice trailed off.

“They used fetal development science. Or…I don’t know. It’s confusing even to me,” Kelley said.
Reality sunk in. A second later Susan leapt up, ran to the sparse patch of dying grass along the curb, and vomited. Kelley respectfully looked away and waited. She purged the contents of her stomach one more time and then turned back toward him.
“There’s something I never told you, Kelley. Something about Keesha.”
“Something about Keesha, what?” a voice demanded. Kelley and Susan whirled their attention to see Keesha standing there, armed with paint brushes and rags. “I wanted to explain to you in person why I’ve been hacking your computer. After I asked Kelley to do it, I felt like a big chicken. So I came to tell you myself. But it sounds now like you’ve got some explaining to do yourself.” From the strained expression across her forehead, Kelley thought she might cry.
“Honey. I…” Susan looked at her hands. She knotted her fingers together. “I just wanted a baby, I wanted you, so badly. I didn’t know…” she put her face in her hands and began to sob. Kelley walked toward her.
“You what, mom?!” Keesha cried. “You didn’t know, what?”
Both women were crying now.
“Romer Onyx offered to provide the technical assistance so that I could conceive you. I didn’t have the money to simply go through the donor program the way I had with your sister. And R.O seemed to so…” her face twisted, “willing to help. In exchange, I had to agree to allow them to alter the genetic make-up of the embryo.” She shook her head, reaching for words, for a memory. “I don’t remember their exact words, now. It’s been so long. It honestly never occurred to me that it would come to this.” Then, as if to re assure herself more than anything else she added, “And they have left us alone. Mr. Parks asks after Keesha sometimes. But no one else has bothered us. Especially because Keesha hasn’t lived with me for years.” Tears forced themselves out through the corners of her eyes.
Keesha instinctively placed her arms around her mother’s shoulders. Anger gave way to sympathy.
“I know, Mom. At least I thought maybe I knew. But I needed to hear it from you.”
“What?” She stared at her daughter in disbelief.
“Well,” Keesha said deliberatively, “I didn’t always know. Just recently. In one of my hacks one day last week when you were out here finishing the grid for the painting, I was alone in your apartment. Kelley and I found some documents intended as memos between Mr. Parks and the Board of Directors. It was a draft of his presentation he gave a few days ago. As an appendix it listed a procedure that was conducted about fifteen years ago. They partnered with a fertility agency and women trying to conceive.” Her voice became dry and strained.
Kelley jumped in. “You were listed as one of the participants. It laid out how they used embryonic infusion with microscopic nanosensors to create a human body that could be designed literally from before birth to be tracked and monitored. The chip is made of copper and magnesium. After being infused with the human DNA sequence, it ‘grows’ a 16 digit code that connects the DNA to a signal that beams the information to a nearby smartphone or tablet that has the security clearance. They needed to see if the chip technology would survive the growth and development of the human body, and if the human body would grow and develop with the infusion of the chip.”
Keesha looked at Kelley. “At first, I fell apart. I was mad. Really mad. And scared. Kelley helped calm me down. I mean, to realize that my whole life Romer Onyx had the ability to know everything about me.”
Susan turned her attention to Kelley, a strained and expectant look drawing her lips into peculiar twist at the edges. “I wanted to tell you,” her voice trailed off. She started again. “Remember that day? In the park?” The tears started again. “I just didn’t know how to tell you. I thought, if you knew the truth, about how I had used R.O technology you would never speak to me again. It was such a betrayal of everything we believed in. And yet…” She gazed deeply at Keesha. “How can anything that brought me my baby angel be bad?”
“Susan,” he said in a soft tone, “Yeah, I was shocked. Hurt a little. But each of us makes our own deals with the devil every day. Each of us makes our choices where and when we might compromise what we believe in for something else we believe in. It’s never that cut and dry. Even for me.”
Kelley moved closer to Susan, hesitantly, not sure of how she might take this news. “I believe in this fight. The resistance. I have given my whole life to it. I love our community. But I also love you. And Keesha. No matter what. And I’ll always stand by you.”
Susan threw herself into his arms, and a thousand ton weight was cast away into thin air. “But we have to keep up the resistance. Because what they did to Keesha, to the other babies who were part of that experiment. They’re planning to do it now to all of us.”
Susan recovered herself. She straightened her braids, and smoothed the wrinkled along the front of her plaid blouse. “I don’t understand. The fertility clinic closed a decade ago,”
“That’s because the fertility clinic was just a trial experiment. To see how people could function with the new technology inserted. As you can see,” he nodded toward Keesha, “It works pretty well. Here’s a healthy bright beautiful young woman standing in front of us as the proof of that.”
Keesha playfully did a small curtsy and giggled. Then she stuck out her tongue at Kelley.
Feeling more able to process and analyze it all, Susan began to worry about what this had meant for Keesha. “But that also means all this time, R.O has had its claws into my baby.” The fight was returning to her. “They know where she is right now!” Susan looked around the building, and up and down the street panicked.
“The good news is that the data from the experimental babies like Keesha was wiped out a few years after they were born. No one knows how. It was one of the greatest data breaches R.O. ever experienced. The Black Hatters weren’t responsible. Hell, we didn’t even know about this until just last week. We retrieved a few electronic uploads of some older high security documents that warned the medical personnel that their project had been breached. They lost all the data. The DNA sensors worked, but their security failed.” He laughed a little. “And the signals to and from the human nano-sensors were broken. Maybe that’s why they gave up the project, and moved to Plan B. But someone…Well, whoever it was, we owe them a debt of gratitude.”
“So, then how do they plan on using this technology to take over the community?”
“By manufacturing a crisis.” It was Ryder’s voice. They all turned and saw him standing at the doorway of the broken down factory 200 yards up the city block. “I decided to look around while I waited for ya’ll. I found something that might interest you.”
They all shuffled slowly, exhausted, toward Ryder whose tall figure in the doorway seemed somehow even taller than usual. Kelley noted how much he was growing to resemble his father. The pang of loss surged.
Their eyes took a few moments to adjust to the dim and empty space. Around them lay piles of old tile, bricks, a few bags of sagging mortar that spilled across the floor. Light shone in thin rays down through the cracks between the boarded up windows that rose high to the fifty-foot ceilings.
“I found this,” Ryder announced gesturing with his arm toward the far corner of the room. A large lump of a mechanical device loomed thirty feet into the air and slumped like a slain giraffe, covered by a grey tarp. They walked over in unison. Ryder gently lifted the cover. “This. I am not sure what it is. But I am pretty sure I know what it does.”
From what they could glean in the half lit environment was a machine comprised of a 25 inch drilling mechanism apparatus, and a motor that would have run a tractor trailer. As if studying a sacred work of art in a chapel, they each stood motionless in awe.
“This must be what they’re using to create seismic disruptions. It’s a re fashioned fracking drill”, Ryder said.
“Paired with drilling to make tunnels. To run toxins into the water,” Kelley added.
Susan whispered, “There is mile upon mile of empty buildings owned by R.O surrounding our community. They must have their tunnels and equipment running out from all points.” Her stomach tightened. “We’re surrounded.”
Keesha said, “Once they destroy our food and water. Once they destabilize our buildings. We will have no choice but to feed ourselves with food and water from R.O. materials they’ve infused with the nano sensors. And we will have to move, too. Into their world.” She spat on the ground.
It finally struck Susan. She exclaimed, “That’s why they want me to work on these murals!”
Kelley looked confused. Despite her fear it felt good to connect the dots and to feel she now had something to contribute that might help. “Because they will want to create these communities for us. They want to create the illusion of familiarity, of identity. Making it look like it’s our neighborhood rather than something they manufactured – for us. They need us to buy into this. So that we won’t realize we’ve been colonized.” A rage replaced excitement. “And they’ve been using me to do it!” Kelley placed his arm around Susan to sooth her. He said, “It’s time to tell everyone the truth. We need Pops. We need English. We need everyone. But I have an idea.”

CHAPTER NINE
(for Don B.)

English stood by his carving station, in astute attention, over-compensating for the nervousness he feared his body would reveal. If he were ever caught…. He couldn’t even think about it. He turned his attention to the steaming roast beef, hot under the yellow food lamp. The smell made him nauseous.

The Romer Onyx banquets were always quite an extravaganza, whenever they were launching a new project or product. All the executive Board, stock holders, and stake holders would gather like well-heeled and well-mannered vultures, chattering around one another in self-indulgent adoration of their very existence.

The last time they had held a gathering this big, with long rows of buffet, more suited to a king’s coronation than a stock holders meeting was the day they launched the data pods. English remembered how the R.O executives cooed and crowed over their creation, and how it would “revolutionize the relationships” between capital (aka their money) and the producers of their capital (the communities) through seamless portals of data mining.

While large percentages of the globe continued to operate under the sway of this partnership-of-domination-through-surveillance, more and more decolonized cities were cropping up, following the example of Interregnum City. Romer Onyx’s control, and profits, weakened with every city that unplugged. If this spread of meats, salads, desserts, and ice sculptures that English had been charged with coordinating for today, was any indication, whatever it was they were launching next, which must have taken them decades to construct, was going to be even bigger.

English eyed Ryder protectively, who was at the far corner, dressed as a waiter. Nervousness leaked off of him. His movements were mechanical, forced, and stiff. He did not carry himself like someone who had been trained as R.O wait staff. English hoped the CEO’s would be too full of themselves today to notice the odd looking waiter who could barely pour glasses of water without shaking.

Mr. Parks, in his crisp dark blue suit made his way to the podium at the front of the ballroom. Mr. Parks had been CEO of Romer Onyx as long as English could recall, which was now over twenty years. He must have risen through the ranks as a very young executive groomed for world domination. How else does someone else to get to become as powerful as him?

English had started working with the company as a young widower, desperate to provide for his two children, after the loss of their mother. Back then, no one fully understood what R.O was doing to their communities in the name of “progress.” Once the community members realized how R.O was controlling them, English had wanted to quit, but it was Pops who convinced him to stay on, and be a source of necessary information. Given how the community had rejected their partnerships with R.O., English was surprised that Mr. Parks was willing to keep him on a Chief Chef in charge of all food distribution for the company and their neighborhood “partnerships.” Mr. Parks had simply said, “English. You’re a good worker. I don’t want to have to bother retraining someone else. You just keep doing a good job and we will be just fine.” It was a simple as that. English saw firsthand how R.O used access to food and water as instruments of control over desperate communities.
English chuckled to himself. Over the last ten years or so, Mr. Parks clearly had forgotten who English was, and where he’d come from or he would have never allowed him to be present for this current unveiling. Of course, part of his job was to be vetted for security clearance. English had dutifully moved out of Interregnum City and into the R.O established living quarters. It was comfortable enough…as long as you didn’t ask any questions. Which English never did, publicly at least. He had quietly worked his way into the wallpaper, so to speak. He excelled at going un-noticed. English knew he would have to remain so until he could reach Pops with news of what he was learning.

“Excuse me,” Mr. Parks called with authority through the podium microphone. “Please, have a seat. May I have your attention?”

The room of about forty people (mostly grey haired white males) obediently took their seats. Mr. Parks announced, “We’d like to begin our program for this evening. I think you’ll be quite pleased with what we have to present to you. It’s going to revolutionize the face of our community relations.” English had heard that before.

English and Ryder caught one others attention from across the room. Ryder had to lean against the wall to keep from falling. The fabric of waiter jacket was hot and itchy, and the sleeves agitated his wrists. He wanted to claw his way out of it. Oh god, what could be worse than the data pods? he asked himself. English tried to give him a weak smile of assurance as if to say, “Hang in there. It’ll be ok.”

“I’d like to introduce you all to our top scientist, Dr. Caldwell, who will be sharing with you his latest work. I think you’ll be quite pleased.”

Not likely, English thought as he stirred the large silver tray of mashed potatoes.

The large movie screen behind Mr. Parks lit up, as Mr. Caldwell rose to the sound of polite applause, and he walked up toward the podium. An image appeared on the screen which read, “The future of bio-data.” Next to it was a picture of a field of corn, and next to that another picture of a smiling family of four, all seated around a computer screen as if looking at something happy.
What the…? English wondered.

“Thank you,” Dr. Caldwell began nervously. He was a short portly man with unkempt hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in days. He was a cliché of his scientific field. Probably hadn’t been out of the lab in years. English doubted that this man had any personal relationships or family whatsoever.

“As you can probably guess, I am not very good at public speaking.” A light wave of laughter floated over the room. He smiled. “So, I will get right to the point. I don’t want to be the only thing that stands between you and that amazing buffet of food R.O has provided for us today.” English felt self –conscious, as all eyes turned to him for a brief moment. He looked down and quickly stirred the tureen of soup, avoiding eye contact with the audience.

Dr. Caldwell clicked the remote, and another screen appeared– large over his head. It said: The future of biometric data. You are what you eat.

Click. New slide.

“We all know what happened twenty years ago after the development of data pods was so painfully rejected by some of our sister-cities.”

Ryder was stacking cups and napkins at the coffee station. He kept his back to the audience. An image of the destroyed data pod of Interregnum City came on the screen. There were murmurs in the crowd.
How did that get that image? English wondered. It seemed like R.O could do anything. Maybe they were gods, after all.

“So,” Dr. Caldwell interjected, trying to regain the attention of the crowd, “One of the problems we encountered was that the data pods, though efficient for their time, proved to be too external. Too out of our immediate control.”

Next slide: A magnified picture of a very tiny microchip…or something like that. Whatever it was, English had never seen anything like it. The Black Hatters had never talked about anything like this. You could see that, as the thing was placed next to someone’s thumb, as if to give the viewer a sense of scale, it was smaller than the size of a tip of a splinter underneath the skin.

“This… is ‘cyber-sky-supplement’ or CSS for short,” Dr. Caldwell pronounced this as if he were announcing the naming of a newborn child. His child. “CSS is the new face of biotechnology that will allow us to create immediate and direct relationships between our products and the data we need to continue our work. In this age where knowledge, or data, is capital, failing partnerships like the one’s started with Interregnum City, and more happening each week, we need a new way to interface with our sources of data that require no middle-man. Data pods were a middle man. But without them, how do we continue the necessary flow of knowledge in order to continue our work? We provide everything from quality of living improvements, financial services, food distribution, medical care… we provide everything to our partner communities. But, as you already know, we need their data to provide these services. We need their body metrics to create new medicines and manage healthy providers. We need their educational data to distribute individualized school services. We need their social, behavioral, and emotional data to ensure our investments in their businesses are not so risky that we face another financial collapse. While it hurts us that certain communities” he toned with disgust, “would refuse our services, maybe we need to rethink how we create these partnerships. As we are now learning, not everything can be serviced through cyber space alone. Outsourcing to the data pods exposed us to risk. Relying on good faith agreements with communities to participate prove insufficient. What can replace the middle man? Answer? We go back to the source. After all, without humans, without our very bodily existence, none of this matters, anyway.”

Slide: An image of a human body resembling the famous work by Leonardo Da Vinci entitled Vitruvian Man.  Ryder recognized it from one of Keesha’s art books. He wondered about her and where she was right now. With her mom painting some happy mural he assumed. He wished she were here because as Dr. Caldwell was unveiling his monstrous masterpiece, all Ryder wanted to do was to cry in her arms.

“The CSS is so microscopic it is odorless and tasteless. It is virtually, no pun intended,” he stops to laugh at his own cleverness, “undetectable.” Once inside the human organism, it begins to move from a fabricated piece of artificial intelligence into something that learns from the human body, and transforms into an organic entity that evolves into a functioning part of the living organism itself. The Nano sensors are constructed of copper and magnesium. It is not necessary for the survival of the human organism such as heart, but functions on a more superfluous basis like the tonsils or the gallbladder.”

English felt the gravity beneath his feet fading away. Everything around him whirled in a free fall. He braced himself against the table. Ryder has seated himself in the darker corner at an empty round table. No one was paying attention to him. All eyes were glued to the screen. Jovial murmurs were replaced with total silence. The room felt like a cemetery at midnight.

“Our technology has allowed us to develop the CSS so that all internal sources of data, sources which once relied on external vehicles of transmission by way of computers and cell phone and surveillance networks attached to the data pods, can now be brought to us directly and immediately. Big data is “NOW” data. Data that cannot be interrupted through external chains of command.” A dark shadow washed over his face. He paused and cleared his throat. “We did had a disruption to our data after the advent of our experiment with the fertility project. While the growth and development of then human subject was a success …we…we lost our data. Security continues to locate the source.”

The crowd murmured.

One man seated at a table in the middle of the room raised his hand. “But…” he fumbled for the right words. “Is it safe?”

It was clear from his facial expression that Dr. Caldwell was expecting this question.

“Yes” he said emphatically. “Yes. It is. It was born out of earlier work with GMO’s. We thought, we can genetically modify the food, but can we create food materials that can genetically modify the human? And what can we do with those genetic modifications? So, we all know the science on GMO’s. I won’t go into those critiques against it. Nothing bad can be proven.”
Nods of approval erupted in the room.

“So, the CSS pairs GMO science with cyber Intel. The CSS is a consumable piece of artificial intelligence that learns from its host until it becomes a seamless part of the organism itself, which also transmits data through the cloud back to the original source, which is Romer Onyx. To your question– is it safe? In addition to relying on our work with GMOs we have engaged in trial runs of this process.”

What? English couldn’t believe this. They’ve experimented on humans already? How did they get participants willing to do that?

As if on cue, Dr. Caldwell explained, “We created contractual arrangements with our pre-natal medical unit and women who were searching for ways to bear a child. Through the fertility and in vitro fertilization center, we identified women who agreed to allow R.O to provide them with the means to conceive and carry to a child to full term so long as that child was inserted with CSS material within the DNA materials used to produce a viable fetus.”

Dr. Caldwell paused. He knows this is a lot to process, even for the executive board of the most powerful technologically advanced corporation on the globe.
“We’ve been tracking their progress now for about fifteen years.”

“You’ve been doing this for fifteen years, and never told any of the Board?” one bearded man demanded incredulously. He was either angry or confused, but from where English stood behind his carving station, it was difficult to tell.

“We had to keep this completely top secret until we had worked out all the bugs.”
What a funny term for life altering, perhaps life-ending mistakes, thought English. Bugs.
“While there were some miscalculations about how to manage the CSS once inside the fetus, especially as the human host moves through levels of maturation, we seem to have isolated the problems with our technology. Now we can go to scale.”

“Scale? But … how?” the same bearded man, asked more incredulous than before. “We can’t just go around inseminating women with CSS- infused DNA to produce children who are carriers of this data system!”

Click. New Screen. Dr. Caldwell pointed at the large image.
“Through the primary sources of human survival. Food and water. This can work easily with our existing sister-cities who already buy food and water resources through our distribution centers. Their contractual agreements state that we are permitted to alter the genetic composition of our foods, without disclosing this information to them, because biosecurity demands that we keep such information secret. Similarly, we have agreements that in exchange for ease and comfort of all the resources we provide, sister communities willingly give over their personal biodata anyway. Since the addition of CSS to all our food and drinking water resources complies with both contractual agreements, no further disclosure is necessary. We are doing this to better care for and control surveillance of our sources of capital. Who can fault us for that?”

The man seated next to the incredulous man scratched his chin. “Yes, but,” he blurts out, “What about the off script communities? The ones who destroyed the data pods and exist free of any outsourcing except with other off-script communities? They grow and make their own food. They drink their own water. What about them?”

By this time, Mr. Parks has returned to the podium, standing next to Dr. Caldwell. He leans in to the podium microphone. With deliberate slowness he says, “Well. We will just have to do to their food and water sources what they did to our data pods.”

English felt his body fall to the floor and everything went black.