Oregon is considering taxing the number of miles
we drive, rather than add a tax to each gallon of gasoline or diesel
we buy, to pay for the construction and maintenance of the highway
isnít the only state considering this approach, according to the
Associated Press, which noted a few days ago that several states
are considering doing the same. To many, itís a ďso what?Ē moment
and the effect on individual privacy is not a consideration.
transportation authorities who are considering this proposal are
concerned that the mass purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles will
not generate enough money through the gasoline tax to provide adequate
maintenance for the highway system.
do drivers pay this new tax? There are several ways, including reporting
mileage when a car is registered or re-registered, or sold or junked.
It seems that the odometer would become a kind of automobile black
box for the road tax collectors.
ways include installation of a global positioning system (GPS) in
each vehicle, so that the travel of the car can be tracked electronically.
would require the installation of receivers and recorders along
the nationís entire highway system, so it may be a while before
thereís enough time or money to accomplish that.
you think that canít be done, think of the ways that our movements
and purchases are tracked already: credit card purchases, the so-called
discount cards that supermarkets and drug stores hand out, electronic
passes for toll highways, and the list continues.
year, in a speech on another topic, Massachusetts Governor Deval
Patrick casually mentioned elimination of all toll roads and replacing
the entire toll structure with something that would track every
vehicle and charge for the mileage.
the same idea as Oregonís, but the governor wasnít talking about
transportation in that speech. He just mentioned it, and he didnít
explain how his system might work. He simply said that the technology
exists to make such a system work.
only way that Patrickís system would work is to have some kind of
transmitter installed in each vehicle and have most roads - crossroads,
at least - equipped with receivers and recording devices.
information would be transmitted to a central database and would
sit there until the time to send out the tax bills (annually, quarterly,
or monthly?). Without saying as much, along the way, the central
authority likely would be able to determine where you drove on a
particular day, how long you were there, and where you went later.
thatís surveillance! But, weíre not done.
is not just an urban or suburban consideration. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture has come up with a surveillance system of its own,
called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which would
track every head of livestock on every farm in America.
that system, the farmer would have to mark every animal - cow, horse,
sheep, goat, chicken, duck, goose, or any other livestock - and
report its whereabouts to the central database. If an animal is
sold, thatís reported. If an animal dies, thatís reported. If a
farmer buys an animal and brings it to the farm, thatís reported.
If you take a ride on your horse down the road, thatís reported.
Under the rules, if a chicken is eaten for dinner, thatís reported.
there is an exception made for industrial food operations. They
can use just a single number, if theyíre producing, say, 500,000
chickens or 5,000 beef cows, or 10,000 hogs. But
the family farmer has to comply with a mark and record-keeping on
every single animal.
requirements are onerous and will be costly in time and money. Many
small livestock farmers are simply deciding not to put up with the
system - theyíre quitting. That eliminates competition for the industrial
food producers. To them, thatís a benefit and it could be one of
the reasons they demanded that USDA create NAIS.
did this without any apparent Congressional oversight. They certainly
did not consult the family farmers of America,
who would have rejected it out of hand. They already comply with
other systems that track animal diseases. And, food safety, generally,
starts at the slaughterhouse for meat and in the packing house for
fruits and vegetables.
state agriculture departments are doing the same thing, claiming
all the time that it is a voluntary system, but doing everything
in their power to make it effectively mandatory. Itís an example
of bureaucracy gone wild, but the genesis of the system is reported
to have been the demand of some of the largest, most powerful agribusinesses
in the world.
is but one kind of mass surveillance over which the democratic institutions
of America appear to have no control.
farmers across the south were losing their farms at three times
the rate of all farmers, during the massive farm foreclosures of
the 1980s. It
will be even more difficult for them to stay on the land with such
demanding and intrusive systems such as NAIS.
just a slight bit of reflection, one can imagine why the time-and-motion
study men were so reviled in the early factories of the Industrial
true that the factory workers were in one place, rather than spread
out on the national road system or on farms all across the country,
but the effect and intent were the same - control of the workplace
and control of the workers.
proposed changes that the time-and-motion men (and most were men)
came up with literally attempted to remove any human interaction
from the workplace. They dehumanized the places by encouraging the
factory owners to view their workers as parts of the machinery (if
you keep them from talking to one another, theyíll be more productive).
too, are the current proposals to track human beings and their activities.
Ultimately, itís about control. Felons who are wearing electronic
bracelets will have nothing on the average driver or citizen or
farmer. Whatever they do, someone can track them, and the record
doesnít go away. With our amazing technology, the information can
remain ďon fileĒ for a very long time.
want a clean environment. They want pure food and water. They want
a transportation system that doesnít further degrade the environment.
want decent housing for all. They want good schools for every child
and health care for every person. There are ways to achieve the
goals of society within a democratic structure. Itís simple: the
people have to be involved. When theyíre not, itís easy for an authoritarian
individual or group to gain power, and then, the abuses begin.
of the time, the government and Corporate America (which work usually
hand-in-hand) signal what they intend to do. We just have to read
the signs and act accordingly. In family farm terms, theyíre putting
up the fence and just waiting to hook up the electricity.
now, theyíre telling us that theyíre readying us for the personal
surveillance society, inside a national security state. This still
is a democracy, to the extent we participate in it. Our constitutional
rights to freedom and privacy are further endangered by these proposals
and the systems that already are in place. Itís time to act.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union
organizer. His union work started when he became a local president
of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for
14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work,
he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on
the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and
land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.