(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.”
“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.”

(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.


Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacon’s grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.


The heads of lettuce peeked meekly out of the dirt, edges tipped downward in disapproving fashion. “This is not how we are supposed to feel!” they seemed to be saying. Pops was frowning too. He seemed to be in silent agreement with the whole crop of the community garden. They were all in physical despair. The last round of “eruptions” (no one knew what to call them because their origins of cause were still unknown) seemed to set off a chain of physical events in Interregnum City. This chain of events included a sudden downturn in the garden, which merely two weeks ago was ready for a robust harvesting, and now wept and crumbled back inward toward the soil from where it came.

Certain city blocks complained of their tap water turning a yellowish-brown at the faucets. In other segments of the city, buildings (previous solid and unwavering in their construction), were now weak at the foundations and dozens of families evacuated until they could be re secured. Something was growing underground. The strange “booming” sound was impossible to ignore. But what? And why?

Pops knew instinctively that Romer Onyx was behind this. It had only been two weeks since Keesha, Ryder and Deacon had gone “underground” (a phrase he found darkly funny given the circumstance), and today in this very garden was his intel meeting with his “insider.” Through brief visits with Deacon late at night inside the tunnels, Pops learned that Kelley and Kesha were quietly tapping into the RO data base through Susan’s computer while Keesha also spent time with her mom painting murals across the string of abandoned buildings littering the outskirts of RO property. The land owned by R.O was larger than many of the surrounding cities. Over the course of thirty years, R.O had grown into a world unto itself. Meanwhile, Ryder was working with Pops “insider,” taking him under his wing, disguised as a RO employee.

The air was hot and dry. It hadn’t rained for days. Pops stretched his legs from beneath the wooden bench situated at the far corner alongside the dying rows of beans and peppers. What would happen them? To all of them, if they couldn’t stop Romer Onyx from whatever it was they were doing? He hoped that English would have some answers … finally. The cryptic messages from Deacon, who spent more hours running Intel back and forth through the tunnels than he did in the deli, were difficult to understand. His long hours of absence were sorely noted by his mother, too. “Where has that Deacon gone off to now, Pops?” she would ask, with annoyance.

“Sent him on a long delivery run,” Pops would reply.

Lips pursed, eyes narrowed, Deacon’s mom would say, “Hmmm. Sure, Pops,” as if she knew something else was afoot, but just chose not to ask.

Running the store kept her occupied enough without getting caught up in “whatever this was” that Pops and Deacon had going on. Let them have their secret project, she told herself. She trusted her father implicitly- whatever it was, he had his reasons she was sure. Besides, since the community garden has started failing, inexplicably, their sources of fresh produce for the shop were in short supply as well, and they were barely hanging on these last few weeks. It felt as if the community might run out of food if something couldn’t be done.  They’d be forced to buy from outside sources, a thought that sickened her. Half the community would rather starve than have to outsource their food supply to the likes of companies like Romer Onyx, which controlled all the factory farms that lay just over the horizon of their city limits.

Pops shifted his seat, his back was getting sore leaning on the hard wooden surface. Then he saw English turn the corner at the flower stand, pass through the gate, and stroll through the midsection of the garden toward him. He wore a weary expression. Pops nodded.

He allowed English a moment to settle in beside him on the bench and the two sat in silence for a few seconds. The heat felt as heavy as the silence. Pops gave a deliberate sigh. “Yeah, I know,” English replied as if reading his thoughts.

“How long have we known each other?” English asked, his gaze looking steadily outward into space. Pops paused as if considering the answer to complex mathematic problem.

“’Bout fifty years I suppose now,” he replied.

“So, have I ever lied to you?”

“Nope. Never.”

“Have I ever seemed…?” English searched for the right words, “Mentally unsound to you?”

Pops stomach tightened. What was it exactly that English had to tell him? How bad was this Intel going to be?

“Nope, my friend. You are as right as rain,” Pops assured him.

His friendship with English went back to when their families lived next door to each other, row home by row home, sharing stories and lemonade on the stoops on hot summer days, and Sunday dinners on cold winter evenings. As they grew from teens to adulthood, English’s sister Delia became the object of Pops’ affection, and eventually, Delia became Pops’ wife. His brother-in-law English was his most trusted friend, even after Delia passed suddenly from cancer when their daughter still very young. English became a second father – helping to rear is his niece, and her son Deacon, in his sister’s absence.

Although he missed her terribly every day, a part of Pops was relieved she never had to witness the destruction of their community and their family networks at the hands of R.O. Toward the end, Delia was too ill to any pay attention to the stories of what the tracking and surveillance the police and justice system (both outsourced to R.O) was doing to their young people. Before they were even out of school, like indentured servants or enslaved people of their ancestry, children were indebted to R.O. and companies like it in exchange for the education these companies had paid for. Public education was completely eradicated and replaced with charter schools, owned and managed by technology moguls who promised skills and employment. But it became clear, underneath their slick promises of money and jobs, what their community offered in exchange was more than they bargained for.

First, centuries before, they had been starved economically nearly out of existence by these same financial “wizards” who, after leaving the communities in near-shambles, re-entered the neighborhoods with promise of “hope and repair.”  At the time, it hadn’t seemed like a bad deal. Besides, what were their other options? It wasn’t so bad at first. Things seemed to get better. At least, while Delia was alive. Then R.O revealed the price of their agreement. “Philanthropic investments” in social goods and services in exchange for continuous surveillance.

They tried to endure it. What choice did they have? But after 20 years of being fed up, they found another option in going off script. Complete divestment from the corporate powers that had for centuries sought, not to destroy them, but to use them, for their own purposes.

Looking over the garden, and then at English, Pops wondered if they were again under attack. Or, perhaps not if …but how.

English asked, “And how long have I been passing along Intel from R.O?” His blue eyes looked grey in the garden sunlight.

Pops paused again. His debt for the risks English had been taking, working for R.O undercover and secretly passing along whatever information he could glean, while working as the food coordinator for the R.O kitchens, was invaluable to the community. If R.O. ever found out their secrets were being leaked by their trusted kitchen supervisor, there was no telling what might come of English. Other Romer Onyx “leaks” had tried (and failed) to give Intel to Interregnum City. No one quite knew what happened them.

Pops thought about Ryder’s father, Reverend Booker, who had gone missing ten years after the decolonizing revolution. Booker’s Intel had been the corner stone of the community’s capacity to decolonize themselves. Without his work, they’d still be in electronic chains. And then, on the morning they were celebrating their ten year anniversary of the revolution, as Kelly and the Black Hatters stood atop the Data Pods now laying like slain beasts of the fields, as dead as the heads of lettuce in this garden; that same day, Reverend Booker simply vanished. No note. No trace. A devoted father and husband doesn’t just walk away like that. But no Intel out of R.O ever gave clue to where he might have been taken.

Pops hoped that whatever English had to tell him, might include news about the Reverend.

“You’re going to think I am the far side of madness when I tell you what I heard just two days ago from the top brass at R.O,” English said anxiously.

Pops felt the knot in his gut tighten even more.

“Go ahead,” he said, “I want to know everything.”

“It happened when I was in charge of the buffet for their annual investors Board meeting a few days ago.”

What followed defied all capacity for disbelief Pops had ever had.

To be continued in forthcoming Chapter Nine….

I was appalled when an educator/activist/author friend of mine, shared with me over coffee, that University of Maryland College Park, in partnership with real estate mogul Edward St John, contracted with prison labor for the creation of their shiny new building:

MCE Helps Furnish New Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at UMCP
On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the University of Maryland dedicated the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. Named for Baltimore-based developer, philanthropist and 1961 alumnus, Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties, the 187,000-square- foot space, which includes 12 classrooms and nine teaching labs with a total of 1,500 seats, will elevate the culture of collaborative learning on campus.
Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) was responsible for designing, manufacturing and installing a variety of products used in the new building.”

Agenda University System of Maryland see item:
A-2. Maryland Correctional Enterprises  –  Edward St. John Teaching & Learning Center – Furniture $1,345,599.00UMS/UMCP Prince George’s

The contract is also presented on MCE’s Fiscal Year statement.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

Most of us are familiar by now with the concept of a school-to-prison pipeline, but  here it is, a prison-for-school pipeline, or better yet, prison-for-profit (all hail 21st century slavery alive and well) in the name of “education reform.”

It might be  a “great day” for Ed St John and U of M, but I doubt its a great day for the forced laborers who did the work.  The new center will “transform teaching and learning” but it will not transform systemic oppression or racism. In fact, it benefits from the fruits of oppressive labor. This is not the only time that U of M, or other institutions of higher learning have used prison labor. That is a deep seated problem in itself that warrants our attention. As one news article states, “”Maryland is just a symptom … of how the prison industrial complex affects African-Americans and poor people of color nationwide.”

What I choose to focus on here is the irony of the scope and purpose of the St John education building and education legacy itself through the use of prison labor, especially for an organization such as the Edward St John Foundation which says: “Our mission is based on the strong belief that ‘education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities.’”

Also ironic is that the new center is touted as being “designed to serve as a national model of collaborative learning and to create new spaces enabling students to launch their own business enterprises.” Will the students who attend those classes learn about how for-profit-prison industry is a boon to corporate moguls who profiteer from the incarceration of low income people of color as a “business enterprise?”

Edward St. John is also a big donor to KIPP schools, known for their “zero-tolerance” discipline tactics which ironically funnel more students into the prison pipeline than do public schools. But it doesn’t stop with KIPP. St. John is also the developer for a new charter school in Frederick County: The Frederick Classical Charter School. Clearly, St. John did his homework about the uber-profits that can be made by corporate venture investments into school “reform” like charters.

So, let me re summarize this succinctly once more for the cheap seats in the back: Corporate philanthropists like St. John use $ and power to influence education reform policies, and build their own charter schools, which create racist zero-tolerance policies that expel or suspend children of color, who wind up in the correctional facilities that build the higher education buildings where students will be taught to support education reforms that support the same philanthropists.

Any questions?

As his company credo says: Doing Well By Doing Good. It’s clear he’s doing “well” …  but is he doing “good”?



In the last few years a lot of debate has been had over promise and perils of ESSA. Many education advocates argued we must embrace ESSA because it promised to reduce federal choke hold of high stakes standardized testing that was wielded starting with NCLB and ramped up further under Race to the Top. The promise of EESA seemed too good to be true. Why would the same people who devoted decades to dismantling public schools, creating avenues for defacto segregation, and privatizing a public system suddenly want to turn around and “do the right thing?” ESSA authors (Lamar Alexander) claimed that testing would take a “back seat” And it has. The argument support of ESSA was “to restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.”

And so many supporters of democratic public education “bought in” to the hype. Exactly what ARE states deciding to do instead? Those are the details we need to examine, and it’s vital (if we are really to reclaim public spaces and democracy) that we understand that there is a global paradigmatic shift occurring beyond the scope of what we already think we know or can anticipate. We must broaden our understanding of the end-game.

In unwritten or loosely defined ways, ESSA also ushers in a host of opportunities for corporations and private entities to avail themselves of every child’s most private funds of data. See Emily Talmage. The data surveillance tactics have found their ways into what otherwise might have been meaningful community and classroom practices.

Companies and government agencies still have access to students test scores (via online daily competency based education data), despite claims of reducing end-of-year testing. ESSA may in fact be reducing the role that HST testing does play in education policy and practice. But don’t be fooled. It is not because those of us in the opt out movement “won” the battle. The powers-that-be manufactured that move as a distraction. The formulators of ESSA have created the illusion that these new policies will be what we want. The opposite is true. The new avenues of data collection formulated for ESSA, in addition to academic (test) data,  include social emotional data, measuring such things a “grit and tenacity.”  They evaluate “mindfulness.” Some might be asking the question “why?”—what is to be gained from this data collection? The answer is: A great deal if you are keeping up with the research. You know this answer– at least in part.

In part, it is because in the traditional neoliberal framework, any data means money. For example, “Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020.”

Data also means knowing how to anticipate outcomes through predicative analytics, how to sort and track students as future consumers, workers, or prisoners (using 3rd grade data to build prisons goes back decades). But wait….there’s more. We need to understand what this “more” is, and why HST (as insidious as it is/was) PALES in comparison to the new data collection mechanisms and forms of data being mined, and the ways in which this data will significantly erode global democracy and human rights. This is because “a mechanism that is at the heart of biocapitalism in its ever-expanding attempts to commodify all aspects of life.” (Haraway).

The capitalist/consumer paradigm is shifting beneath our feet. With the growing capacities of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the push for Big Data (McKinsey),  we have seen in the last few decades the development of education policies mirroring something more (i.e. Common Core becomes CBE which becomes online learning which means more and more uses for AI and tracking student behavior because now the computers must monitor the children once the teachers are all gone)…. See a summary here. The growing technological advances are slowly forming a new relationship between human and capital. It’s called biocapitalism. And the education policies underway, invited in through the gates of ESSA and other tactics such as social impact bonds, are the way forward for biocapitalism to successfully engender us unto it. Those “innovative assessments” being developed for ESSA are a vehicle by which corporations can build a new biocapital world for all of us. In a biocapital reality, data becomes surveillance becomes total control.

Biocapitalism transforms the interdependent systems of capital and labor (as external phenomena) into a capitalist system that utilizes more abstract form of labor that are internal and intangible. The relationship between man and machine is far more enmeshed in a biocapital relationship.

One website describes it as follows:

“(T)he concept of biocapitalism refers to the production of wealth by means of knowledge and human experience, through the use of those activities, both intellectual and corporeal, that are implicit in existence itself. We might add that every process of production reflects not only material realities, but also social contexts. Thus, relations of production not only characterize different modes of production, but also societal forms. Gradually, the process of production turns into a process of production and reproduction of itself, which is the fundamental activity of a living organism. Although this basic idea is shared by all social forms of life, it becomes absolutely central in biocapitalism.”

As this article Harpers from 1997 clearly describes, “Scratch the surface of information and biotech revolutions ….and what one discovers underneath is a ‘control revolution’….a massive transfer of power from beauracries to individuals and corporations. In an unregulated control revolution free markets and consumer choice become even more dominant forces and in virtually every arena social regulation gives way to economic incentive. …even such social intangibles as privacy become commodified.”

To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

So as we continue to fight yesterday’s battle, i.e for a reduction in standardized testing and believe that that’s a “win” while also ignoring the profound destruction these other education policies (see McDowell) being quietly floated under our noses are having, the effort to control the next generation (our children) will be complete. We cannot become distracted by a bait-and -switch set of tactics.  Look for the forest, not the trees. We have to see the picture for these corporate reformers is much bigger than most parents and teachers and citizens can even imagine. It explains why global billionaires and tech giants like Bill Gates and Google have such a vested interest in “disrupting” education and taking education over with “21st century technology.” Biocapitalism relies on “the use of the relational, emotional and cognitive faculties of human beings.” LINK. In a biocapitalist framework of which 21st century education is a necessary part, “what is exchanged in the labour market is no longer abstract labour (measurable in homogeneous working time), but rather subjectivity itself, in its experiential, relational, creative dimensions. To sum up, what is exchanged is the ‘potentiality’ of the subject. Whereas in the Fordist model it was easy to calculate the value of labour according to the average output and professional skills based on workers’ education and experience, in bio-capitalism the value of labour loses almost any concrete definitional criterion.” LINK

The goal is not merely to sell us all iPads or market education materials and services. The scope is greater than that, and personal data (to be gathered via educational systems sold out to private interests) will use our children’s data not simply to sort and track them by test scores, not simply to close schools in black and brown neighborhoods to profit Wall Street charter schools)….sure all of that is true….but that’s not the end game. We cannot continue to fight yesterday’s demons and expect to reclaim the rights to our schools, our children’s futures, or our democracy. First, we have to see and understand the nature of biocapitalism as an all encompassing and global phenomena and the clear pathways between the new ESSA assessments and education delivery systems and the mechanisms of control being constructed.  We have to construct systemic avenues of wholesale resistance instead piece meal compromises. We cannot afford distractions or avoidance.

The devil is in the details.

The devil is in the data.

It sounds a little “out there”…. sure. Unless…. you begin to see the evidence right before your eyes. Then what? How long will we choose to remain complicit? (Special thank you to Don Bunger for sharing this document with me!). Click on image to enlarge. See the original bill from the Center for Evidence based Policy Making Act here.

Another way to summarize all of this is as follows from Truthout:

“…the theory of cognitive capitalism provides us with a ‘stage’ theory of the changing nature of capitalism that helps us better to understand the logic of knowledge capitalism that operates on the basis of algorithmic logic to expand a universe of information accessibility while changing the nature of the regime of accumulation. All the while, knowledge capitalism also creates giant global info-utilities that make its profits on the backs of the creative endeavors of others while posing as corporation dedicated to the commonweal.”

Interregnum Mile: Chapter Eight

Posted: October 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Note to readers: Just when I thought what I writing was fiction, I came across this courtesy of Alison McDowell  

DATA ON DNA– https://www.sciencealert.com/microsoft-could-be-storing-data-on-dna-within-the-next-three-years


Chapter Eight

The industrial track-lighting in the Romer Onyx complex always reminded Susan of a piss- yellow color. Her artistic temperament incited her to naming colors that elicited strong feelings in her. Susan’s stomach tightened as it did every time she came to Central Office, which was not every often. Even the smell of the anti-septic hallways brought back a rush of memories that re-ignited anxieties she had buried sixteen years ago.

As a contractual employee, Susan was granted a lot of freedom in her work, and it limited her interactions with other RO staff. Keesha’s voice was always inside her head, reminding her that she had made an ethical compromise.

“You can’t change the inside from the outside,” Susan would tell Keesha. “You have to work change from the inside. And then, we can claim our power from within.”

Keesha was never convinced by this. “Show me when that’s ever worked out for folks like us, Mom. RO will make you believe you’re making changes, but they’re just fooling you into complacency!”

Keesha’s argument always gave Susan pause and a feeling of uneasiness. But she wanted to believe that what she was doing, in the long run, was the right choice. She had to.

Today, she quelled her unease with her excitement that Keesha had finally agreed to take an internship with RO. She didn’t even ask what had prompted her daughter’s change-of-mind. Susan didn’t care. She was just eager to have some time to be close to her daughter.

Susan had developed a variety of ways to quell her loneliness as the girls grew older and farther away from her. She never wanted them to feel guilty about deciding not to go with her to the colonized city. Nor should they, as the children, feel the need to adjust their lives to accommodate the needs of their mother. Their happiness was paramount. She leapt at the opportunity to help Keesha apply for this job painting a mural on the side of the Westborough Town Hall Annex building, as part of the corporate led initiative to “beautify” the blighted urban landscapes and recast them in their RO image.  It offset the massive demolition projects RO had been spearheading throughout the rest of the city, leaving its occupants scrambling to find new places to live. What concern were they to the RO grand project?

The air was acrid and cool inside the RO headquarters. Her feet whispered down the carpeted hallways until she reached her destination: The office of Randolph Parks, CEO of Special Projects. She tapped lightly three times with her finger tips.

“Come in!” a voice replied from the other side of the heavy walnut door. She pushed it opened.

“Hello, Susan!” Mr. Parks said standing up from behind his large glass desk. He strode his large six foot frame over and embraced her with both arms.

“Hi, Mr. Parks,” she replied, politely pushing herself back to a more formal distance. “Good to see you, too.” She forced her best smile.

“Susan, it’ been too long. What has it been? Perhaps six years since you’ve been here to say hello?” He thought for a moment and then added, “How is Keesha?”

Susan’s stomach tightened. “Oh, she’s fine. Thank you. But you probably knew the answer to that without having to ask me.” She grimaced a little.

His smile hardened just slightly. “Well, I’m glad to hear things are going well.” He moved back toward the window and looked aimlessly outside.

“Did you …ever …tell her?” The word tell hung heavy in the air between them.

Susan realized she had overstepped her boundaries.

“Keesha says she is looking forward to her internship with me and RO,” She said with genuine optimism. “And no,” she said in a low tone, “I never told her.”

He turned back toward her with a frozen smile. “Good! Well, then. We look forward to bringing her into the fold!”

Susan fought down the bile rising her throat. “The fold.”

“You know, Susan,” he said, pretending to flip through a stack of papers on the edge of his desk, “Without the DNA program, we wouldn’t be standing here now talking about Keesha’s future, at all.”

She knew that without him, and without the funding and technical support from RO, Keesha never would have been born. Sperm donations were expensive. Susan had spent her life saving on becoming pregnant with Naomi and was barely able to pay her rent for months after her birth.

“I know, Mr. Parks. I was very grateful to be selected for embryonic tissue experiment.”

The hope was that RO could grow patented human tissue that was then successfully implanted into a woman’s uterus, and brought to a full term pregnancy and healthy delivery. The idea of genetically modified and patented seeds, successfully mastered in the previous generation led the engineers and technicists to ask themselves, what else could they grow and patent? Could they patent humans, like seeds? From the data they generated at birth, every facet of the human condition could be controlled and monitored.

Susan knew the community would help her get herself the food and housing she and her new baby would need. She had months of mural painting jobs lined up throughout the city, as Interregnum City was still enjoying its renaissance period following the struggle for decolonization. She had a solid safety net.

How many late afternoons had she and Kelley spent walking through Green Square Park, laughing at how her tall and lithe form was growing to resemble a Q tip with a basketball growing out of the middle.

More than a dozen times he said, “Susan. You know how I feel about you.” He’d let the tips of his fingers brush hers as they walked. “Why don’t we make this a family thing, huh? You and me? I love Naomi like she were my own already. How could I not love this little one inside you right now any less than I do her? Or…you?”

Susan would blush. Kelley was a smart, strong, and honest man. She cared for him, but kept her mind from entertaining the idea, since she knew it could never happen.

“Oh, Kelley,” she sighed, as dogs and children raced across the grassy lawn and stopped directly in front of them, causing them pause mid-stride on the walking path. “You’re my best friend. But I don’t want romance. Not right now. I want to raise my girls. I want to go see what’s out there, you know, beyond the limits of our community.” She needed a believable cover. Kelley was not an easily swayed man.

“You’ve been out of here, travelling a whole bunch” he retorted. “You’re not sheltered. And I would never stop you from going wherever you want to go. You know that. I could stay and watch the girls, even” He was making a hard sell.

“I don’t know, Kelley” she said, squeezing his fingers a little tighter. He smiled.  “Let me think about it,” she promised.

She had been thinking about it now for 15 years. And Kelley waited faithfully for the day she’d change her mind.  She would never be able to tell him the real reason. She could never tell him about the deal she had made with RO in order to have Keesha.

In exchange for being given a healthy embryo which led to birth of Keesha, Susan had to agree that moments after her birth, they could implant Keesha with a chip that would enable them to track and collect data from her. Psychometric data that tracked her brain functioning, her chemical balances, her blood pressure, pulse rate…every biometric or sensory piece of information ceaselessly and painlessly flowed from Keesha into the data base at RO.

As part of the exchange, Susan was also required to work for RO. But Susan had never told Keesha, nor Kelley, nor anyone about this. The RO experiment had been top secret. So, instead she told Kelley, “I want to see more of the world out there,” forcing her best poker face. Kelley was not easily fooled and so she avoided further discussion of the matter. If she wanted to have Keesha, she would have to give up Kelley. She made the deal and tried never to look back.

“Mr Parks,” she asked him after a long silence as he continued to shuffle through papers as if she were not still standing there.

“Yes, Susan?”

“What happened to the other women? What happened to them and their RO babies? How come I never see any of them here? Or anywhere else?”

His smile faded and his face became expressionless. She had pushed too far.

“You know I can’t discuss other subjects of the study with you…or with anyone else for that matter,” he retorted, sharply.

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s just that …,” she reached for something, “I am so grateful to have Keesha. And I would love to know that other women were as lucky as I have been.”

He nodded with silent acceptance. She had to dig herself out of this awkward moment. Too many questions were dangerous. The less she stuck her nose into RO business, the safer she could keep Keesha. When the girls were old enough, and she and Naomi insisted on staying in Interregnum City even after she moved out, Susan was quietly relieved. Her plan had worked; her plan to get Keesha as far away from RO as possible. But years of loneliness were getting the better of her. She missed her daughters. So how could she say no when Keesha herself volunteered to spend eight weeks with her? The maternal desire was too powerful, and it drowned out her gut fears.

She said good bye, walked carefully down the labyrinth of hallways, and gasped for air as she swung the rotating doors from the front lobby out onto the front steps of the building.

As Susan walked toward her car, recovering from her meeting with Mr Parks with every step, Mr Parks was on a very important phone call. He stood at his office window, looking down below as she scurried through the parking lot.

“Yes?” a voice said on the other end of the phone.

“We have her.” Mr. Parks replied.

“Are you sure? This could easily blow up in our faces.”

“It’ll work. Trust me. Remember the golden rule: You bring your enemy into the tent if you want to eliminate them. It’s easier to take them one of you than it is to eradicate them by force. Disappear people through co-optation. Dissuade change by making people forget what they were asking for in the first place.”

“Okay, then. But you’d better be right.”

“I always am,” Mr. Parks said, and then he hung up the phone.

Susan turned the key in the car’s ignition, took another few deeps breaths, and smiled to herself.  “What could go wrong in eight weeks?” she convinced herself. It would be great.