Category Archives: Dehumanization

TSA apologizes for trying to pat down sick toddler in wheelchair

AP | Feb 21, 2013

lucy-smallST. LOUIS The Transportation Security Administration is apologizing after agents at Lambert Airport in St. Louis sought to screen a 3-year-old girl in a wheelchair.

The mother of the child shot video that caused a stir in social media after it was posted online.

The incident happened Feb. 8. The girl and her family were about to fly to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. A TSA agent asked to pat down the 3-year-old and screen her wheelchair. The agent initially told the girl’s mother, Annie Schulte, it was illegal to tape the activity.

On the video, the little girl, Lucy, who has spina bifida, is seen crying.

Agents eventually decided against a pat-down.

The TSA says it regrets the incident and will address concerns with its workers.

TSA Wants to Touch Your Kids

Majoring in Minors: Turning Our Schools Into Totalitarian Enclaves

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huffingtonpost.com | Feb 2, 2013

by John W. Whitehead

Just as the 9/11 terrorist attacks created a watershed between the freedoms we enjoyed and our awareness of America’s vulnerability to attack, so the spate of school shootings over the past 10-plus years from Columbine to Newtown has drastically altered the way young people are perceived and treated, transforming them from innocent bystanders into both victims and culprits. Consequently, school officials, attempting to both protect and control young people, have adopted draconian zero-tolerance policies, stringent security measures and cutting-edge technologies that have all but transformed the schools into quasi-prisons.

In their zeal to make the schools safer, school officials have succumbed to a near-manic paranoia about anything even remotely connected to guns and violence, such that a child who brings a piece of paper loosely shaped like a gun to school is treated as harshly as the youngster who brings an actual gun. Yet by majoring in minors, as it were, treating all students as suspects and harshly punishing kids for innocent mistakes, the schools are setting themselves and us up for failure — not only by focusing on the wrong individuals and allowing true threats to go undetected but also by treating young people as if they have no rights, thereby laying the groundwork for future generations that are altogether ignorant of their rights as citizens and unprepared to defend them.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the increasingly harsh punishments and investigative tactics being doled out on young people for engaging in childish behavior or for daring to challenge the authority of school officials. Whereas in the past minor behavioral infractions at school such as shooting spitwads may have warranted a trip to the principal’s office, in-school detention or a phone call to one’s parents; today, they are elevated to the level of criminal behavior with all that implies. Consequently, young people are now being forcibly removed by police officers from the classroom, strip searched, arrested, handcuffed, transported in the back of police squad cars, and placed in police holding cells until their frantic parents can get them out. For those unlucky enough to be targeted for such punishment, the experience will stay with them long after they are allowed back at school. In fact, it will stay with them for the rest of their lives in the form of a criminal record.

Consider the case of Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old elementary school student from the Bronx who got into a scuffle with a classmate over a $5 bill. In response to the incident, school officials called police, who arrested Reyes, transported him to the police station and allegedly handcuffed the child to a wall and interrogated him for ten hours about his behavior and the location of the money. His family is in the midst of pursuing a lawsuit against the police and the city for their egregious behavior.

A North Carolina public school allegedly strip-searched a 10-year-old boy in search of a $20 bill lost by another student, despite the fact that the boy, J.C., twice told school officials he did not have the missing money. The assistant principal, a woman, reportedly ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear. The missing money was later found in the school cafeteria.

And in Chicago, a 15-year-old boy accused by an anonymous tipster of holding drugs was taken to a locker room by two security guards, a Chicago police officer, and a female assistant principal, and made to stand against a wall and drop his pants while one of the security guards inspected his genitals. No drugs were found.

That students as young as seven years old are being strip searched by school officials, over missing money no less, flies in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Safford Unified. Sch. Dist. v. Redding. Insisting that Arizona school officials violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a 13-year-old girl when they strip-searched her on the suspicion she was hiding ibuprofen in her underwear, the justices declared that educators cannot force children to remove their clothing unless student safety is at risk.

Precedent-setting or not, however, the Court’s ruling has done little to improve conditions for young people who are the unfortunate casualties in the schools’ so-called quest for “student safety.” Indeed, with each school shooting, the climate of intolerance for “unacceptable” behavior such as getting into food fights, playing tag, doodling, hugging, kicking, and throwing temper tantrums only intensifies. And as surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches become the norm in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation, the punishments being meted out for childish behavior grow harsher.

Even the most innocuous “infractions” are being shown no leniency, with school officials expelling a 6-year-old girl for bringing a clear plastic toy gun to school, issuing a disciplinary warning to a 5-year-old boy who brought a toy gun built out of LEGOs to class, and pulling out of school a fifth-grade girl who had a “paper” gun with her in class. The six-year-old kindergarten student in South Carolina was classified as such a threat that she’s not even allowed on school grounds. “She cannot even be in my vehicle when I go to pick up my other children,” said the girl’s mom, Angela McKinney.

Nine-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun. That particular LEGO, a policeman, was Patrick’s favorite because his father is a retired police officer. David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns. A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

School officials are also exhibiting zero tolerance for the age-old game of cops and robbers, a playground game I played as a child. In a new wrinkle on this old game, however, it’s not the cop who gets the bad guy. Now, the game ends when school officials summon real cops who arrest the kindergartners for engaging in juvenile crime. That happened at a New Jersey school, from which four little boys were suspended for pretending their fingers were guns. Most recently, two children at two different schools in Maryland were suspended in the same month for separate incidents of pretending their fingers were guns. In another instance, officials at a California elementary school called police when a little boy was caught playing cops and robbers at recess. The principal told the child’s parents their child was a terrorist.

Unwittingly, the principal was right on target: These are acts of terrorism, however, the culprits are not overactive schoolchildren. Rather, those guilty of terrorizing young children and parents nationwide are school officials who — in an effort to enforce zero tolerance policies against violence, weapons and drugs — have moved our schools into a lockdown mentality.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun, pretend or otherwise, to raise the ire of school officials. A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time. A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement). And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what TIME magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Indeed, at least 20 children in four states have been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses.

Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. A 9-year-old boy in Manassas, Va., who gave a Certs breath mint to a classmate, was actually suspended, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates. After students at a Texas school were assigned to write a “scary” Halloween story, one 13-year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police, resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed.

These incidents, while appalling, are the byproducts of an age that values security over freedom, where police have relatively limitless powers to search individuals and homes by virtue of their badge, and where the Constitution is increasingly treated as a historic relic rather than a bulwark against government abuses. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, but the future doesn’t look good from where I’m sitting — not for freedom as we know it, and certainly not for the young people being raised on a diet of abject compliance to police authority, intolerance for minor offenses, overt surveillance and outright totalitarianism.

Israeli Drone Strikes in Gaza in November 2012 Attack: Two-Thirds Killed Were Civilians

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Heron Drone

More Palestinians Killed by Drones Alone in eight DAYS than Israelis Killed by rockets in eight YEARS

opednews.com | Feb 6, 2013

By Ann Wright

Two-thirds of Palestinians killed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drones in the November, 2012 attack on Gaza were civilians. 

This statistic means that for the residents of Gaza, the ground-breaking investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights into the civilian impact and human rights implications of the use of drones and other forms of targeted killing is very important.

Data taken from reports of two human rights groups in Gaza documented that, of the 162 Palestinians killed during the eight-day attack, drone strikes killed 36 and injured 100. 24 of the 36 killed in Gaza by Israeli drones were civilians. Drone strikes (72) were 5 percent of the total Israeli military strikes (1,350) but accounted for 23 percent of the deaths in Gaza, a very high percentage of deaths from the number of drone strikes when compared with deaths from strikes of jet warplanes, artillery and naval bombardment.

Memo justifies drone kills even with patchy intelligence

The UN team will investigate drone strikes and their effects on civilians around the world, but primarily the United States and United Kingdom’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, the US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines and Israeli drone strikes in Gaza.

The objective of the UN investigation is “to look at evidence to determine if drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties and to make recommendations concerning the duty of States to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability and reparation where things have gone badly wrong with potentially grave consequences for civilians.” The statistics indicate that Israeli drone strikes did cause disproportionate Palestinian civilian casualties.

The Israeli military publicly identified on its website 1,500 targets in Gaza that it intended to destroy in its mid-November, 2012 military operation (named “Pillar of Clouds”). The targets named on its website were 30 Hamas and Jihad leaders, 19 high-level command centers, 980 underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 tunnels used for “terrorist” actions, 42 Hamas operations rooms and bases and 26 weapons manufacturing and storage facilities.

For many years, both the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the Al Mazen Centre for Human Rights have had field workers who investigate the frequent, almost daily, Israeli jet plane, drone, helicopter and artillery attacks, naval bombardment attacks and naval firing at Gaza fishermen. The investigators talk with survivors of the attacks and photograph the destruction caused by the attacks and remains of the ordnance found at the attack site.

Following the 14-21 November 2012, eight-day Israeli attack on Gaza, the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights produced a 67-page report titled “Field Report on Israel’s Attacks on Gaza 14-21 November 2012.” The Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented its findings for this period in its “Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Territories 14-21 November, 2012.”

Both reports provide a region-by-region, day-by-day, attack-by-attack account of individual Israeli military strikes in Gaza. Using information from the reports of both human rights organizations, data documented that the Israeli Defense Forces conducted 72 Israeli drone strikes using 100 missiles during the November 2012 attack on Gaza.

The Al Mezan report documents that at least 162 Palestinians were killed in IDF attacks, including 37 children and 13 women. (Later reports  state that 178 were killed.) Another 1,039 people were injured, including 315 children and 191 women. At least 963 houses were damaged or destroyed, including 92 completely. Of those 92 houses, 52 were directly attacked; including 35 “roof-knocking” attacks to indicate to residents that the house was about to be destroyed by a second attack. Another 179 houses sustained serious damage. Additionally, IDF attacks caused damage to 10 health centers, 35 schools, two universities, 15 NGO offices, 30 mosques, 14 media offices, 92 industrial and commercial facilities, one UNRWA food distribution center, eight government ministry buildings, 14 police/security stations, five banks, 34 vehicles, three youth clubs, three cemeteries, and two bridges.


Scout Drone

Data from the Al Mezan and PCHR reports on IDF drone attacks on Gaza identify that:

Drone strikes killed 36 persons, including 4 children under the age of 16, and wounded 100 persons.

24 of the 36, or two thirds, of those killed by drone strikes were considered to be civilians.

Read More

One-Child policy enforcers crush baby to death with their vehicle

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For many in China, the story brings back uncomfortable memories of Feng Jiemei, who last June posted gruesome photographs of her lying in a hospital bed next to her 7-month-old force-aborted fetus.

NBC News | Feb 5, 2013

By Ed Flanagan

BEIJING – A 13-month-old child was fatally crushed by a car containing Chinese officials after they went to collect a fine from the parents for breaching the country’s one-child policy, according to Chinese state media.

The incident reportedly occurred Monday in Dongshantou village near Wenzhou city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, after a delegation of 11 officials from the Ruian Town birth control office drove out to get the unspecified fine.

This did not go down well with the father, Chen Liandi, 39, and the conversation got heated.

According to a briefing given by the Ruian Municipal Propaganda Department and reported by state media, the officials convinced Chen’s wife, Li Yuhong, to accompany them back to Ruian to talk over the couple’s options.

The baby was reportedly left in the hands of his father and the group got back into their cars to leave.

What happened next remains unclear – perhaps due to the politically sensitive nature of this story – but the boy was then found crushed underneath a car.

He was rushed to the Third People’s Hospital in Ruian, but could not be saved.

‘You were too careless’
On China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, users expressed frustration over the vague account given by Ruian officials and demanded more information, but no other Chinese press have printed much beyond the official government account.

For many in China, the story brings back uncomfortable memories of Feng Jiemei, who last June posted gruesome photographs of her lying in a hospital bed next to her 7-month-old aborted fetus.

Feng’s story created a social firestorm for Beijing when word got out that the 22-year-old mother had been forced to have the abortion because she did not have enough money to pay the $6,400 fine for having a second child.

“I told you, $6,400, not even a penny less. I told your dad that and he said he has no money,” a family planning official wrote to Deng in a blunt text message that quickly went viral. “You were too careless, you didn’t think this was a big deal.”

Feng was grabbed from her home and taken to a local hospital in her native Shaanxi province where she was blindfolded, thrown on a bed and forced to a sign a document she couldn’t read. Thirty hours later, her baby girl was aborted.

China has long defended its one-child policy as a way to prevent overpopulation and to help raise living standards across the country.

However, some experts in China and abroad argue that the policy has outlived its usefulness and may instead be a detriment to future growth.

Others in China have pointed out the abuses meted out in cases like Feng Jiemei’s show that it causes more social harm and have called on Beijing to remove it.

Pentagon battles military rape epidemic image problem

pentagon pentagram

cbsnews.com | Jan 27, 2013

(CBS News) NEW YORK – Jennifer Norris has always described herself as a good soldier, a hard worker, and someone who stayed out of trouble.

At 24, the Bethel, Maine, native was looking for a bit more structure in her life while aiming for a graduate degree, so she went to her local military recruiting office and enlisted in the Air Force.

Her dream of serving her country was marred by countless incidents of sexual harassment, three attempted sexual assaults, and one rape.

The most violent attack occurred just weeks after Norris enlisted, when her recruiting officer invited her to what she believed was a party for fellow recruits at his home.

“I was excited to go and meet other new recruits,” Norris said in an interview. “And I showed up at his house, and he proceeded to immediately start pressuring me to want to drink.”

Because she had driven, Norris did not consume any alcohol, but believes he put something in a glass that made her pass out.

“When I woke up, the whole house was dark. Nobody was there, and he picked me up, my basically powerless, lifeless body, and carried me into a bedroom, and he raped me,” Norris said.

She did not file a formal complaint.

“Because I hadn’t even started my career yet. I wasn’t about to go in and say the recruiter just raped me,” Norris said.

Norris went on to become a Technical Sergeant handling satellite communications. But she says she was subjected to repeated sexual advances by another superior officer and was afraid to report it.

“It’s the retaliation,” Norris said. “I was scared to tell the commander, who it seemed like he was best friends with this man.”

Norris points out, once you’ve committed to the military, you can’t just walk away.

“We can’t quit,” she said. “We are basically stuck in the situation unless someone in that chain of command helps us get out of it.”

Former Marine Anu Bhagwati is the executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, which advocates for civil rights of the 15 percent of U.S. military personnel who are women.

The Invisible War – Official Trailer

“There’s very few deterrents within the military to predators, to commanders who are negligent. In the civilian world, you have more access to redress as a victim,” Bhagwati said. “In the civilian world, you can use the civil court system to sue your employer for damages. That is the biggest deterrent to discrimination and harassment in the workplace in the United States of America. That is not available to U.S. service members, and it’s a crying shame. ”

According to the Air Force’s own figures, there were more than 790 cases of sexual assault and harassment by service members reported last year, up from 614 the year before.

In 2011, there were also 883 reports of sexual assault and harassment in the Navy and Marines and 1,695 cases in the Army.

Most cases involved one service member allegedly attacking another, usually a woman.

Air Force calls number of sex assaults “appalling”
Air Force officials find porn, beer bong in base sweeps
Air Force responds to sex scandal with policy changes: Lawmaker

Despite more than 3,000 reports of sexual misconduct for the third year in a row, only one in four attacks is reported. The Defense Department estimates the actual number of incidents is around 19,000 a year.

Norris told her story to the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday, calling the “thousands and thousands of male and female survivors” victims of “the military’s sexual assault epidemic.”

Forty percent of female victims identify a perpetrator was of higher rank, and 23 percent say it was someone in their chain of command, Norris told the committee.

At that hearing, General Mark Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, told members of Congress: “The Air Force goal for sexual assault is not to lower the number. The goal is zero.”

Welsh announced that he was designating 60 Air Force attorneys to handle these complaints and was stationing one victims’ advocate at every base.

In a written statement to CBS News, the Air Force added: “Sexual assault is a crime and it violates our core values. Every allegation will be thoroughly investigated and commanders will consider the full range of disciplinary and administrative measures to include courts-martial while protecting the Constitutional rights of the accused.”

In 2004, the Pentagon established Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to combat sexual assault in the military, but the number of annual incidents keeps climbing.

“Congress continues to hold hearings, and nothing changes,” said California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Speier has proposed legislation to take sexual assault investigations out of the military chain of command and have cases reviewed by independent panels comprised of civilians and military experts.

Speier said, “The victims often times are treated like they are pariahs, and they are ostracized, they are marginalized and over the course of very few months, often times they are diagnosed with what’s called a personality disorder and involuntarily discharged from the military.”

That’s what happened to Jennifer Norris, and after her 14 year Air Force career ended sooner than planned, she considered suicide.

 

“We had a gun,” Norris said of her and her husband, Lee. “I wanted to use it, but my husband stopped me.”

 

Norris’ attackers were never punished, and all were eventually honorably discharged with full benefits, she said.

Norris now works with Protect Our Defenders on behalf of service members victimized by sexual assault and harassment, and for a military rape crisis center.

She doesn’t have children, but does not believe she would encourage a daughter to pursue a military career.

“Not in this lifetime,” Norris said. “My daughter would not join the military, knowing what I know.”

GAO questions TSA using dogs to screen passengers

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Katie, a bomb-sniffing dog, watches travelers go through the TSA security checkpoint.(Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The report raises questions about TSA training of the dog-sniffing teams.

USA TODAY | Jan 31, 2013

by Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON — Federal auditors are raising questions about Transportation Security Administration plans to deploy bomb-sniffing dogs to screen passengers — in addition to cargo — in airports.

The TSA plans to field 120 canine teams at airports nationwide to sniff for explosives on passengers by the end of the year.

The TSA has tested canine teams in closed areas of airports in Miami last June and in Oklahoma City in August. Another test is scheduled in February at Washington’s Dulles airport. In recent months, TSA has experimented with screening passengers at airports in Tampa and Indianapolis.

But a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday says that canine teams repeatedly fail to meet a requirement to get for four hours of training every four weeks. And GAO says that after short-notice tests of the teams, TSA doesn’t keep track of where dogs were most effective or with which types of explosives.

“TSA has not deployed passenger-screening canines — trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person — consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine (the canine) teams’ effectiveness prior to deployment,” the GAO concludes.

The TSA says that beyond its ongoing testing and evaluation, it will update its website that monitors the program in March to better track the passenger screening by dogs in the same way it does for cargo.

“TSA has developed a risk-based deployment methodology that it continues to evaluate and modify, as needed,” Jim Crumpacker, director of the agency’s liaison with GAO, wrote in reply to the report. “TSA will deploy future teams to the highest-priority airports as identified by both operational and risk-based analysis.”

The TSA effort is called the National Canine Program, which began in 1972 after a bomb threat on a plane. The program now has 762 teams of dogs and officers. The program is growing: Funding doubled to $101 million in the past three years, and there are plans for 921 teams.

Officers go through a 10- or 12-week training course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas or at Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Center in Alabama. The dogs include German shepherds, Belgian Malinoises, Vizslas and other types of dogs with good noses for the work.

Dogs began screening aviation cargo in January 2008, and there are now 120 TSA teams doing that. Hundreds of other dogs work with local law-enforcement officers patrolling airport, bus and ferry terminals. By the end of the year, TSA plans to have 120 teams of its inspectors paired with dogs to search for explosives on passengers in airports.

TSA Administrator John Pistole explained in a December presentation that the dogs are part of a program called “managed inclusion,” where passengers can qualify for expedited screening called Precheck if the dogs approve. On the day before Thanksgiving in Indianapolis, Pistole said 31% of the passengers were able to go through Precheck leaving on their shoes and jackets, and leaving laptops in their bags, rather than the typical 5%.

“We can make sure that TSA Precheck lanes are being fully utilized during the checkpoint hours because frankly most of them are not being fully utilized during the checkpoint hours,” Pistole said.

But the GAO says seven unnamed airport operators have declined dog-sniffing teams for passengers because of concerns about how they would deal with suicide bombers.

If TSA received a specific threat against an airport, the agency says it would deploy the teams despite the opposition. But in general, TSA is trying to work cooperatively with local authorities.

GAO also visited two “high-risk” airports with TSA canine teams used for cargo screening or training because TSA hadn’t reached an agreement with law-enforcement officers about how to respond if the dogs found a bomb.

TSA inspectors don’t carry weapons, although local law-enforcement officers do. An unidentified group of law-enforcement officers recommended that TSA dog teams be accompanied by law enforcement officers, GAO says.

The cost to TSA for a canine team with a law-enforcement handler is $53,000 and a TSA handler is $164,000, according to GAO.

Becoming a victim of TSA’s goons

TSA child pat-down molestation

While flying on a plane going west
My luggage lock was supposedly the best
It met all of TSA’s requirements and rules
But still they broke it looking for liquids and tools

[May be sung to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Dream (1963), or not]

smmercury.com | Jan 30, 2013

by Lamar Hankins

Last summer, I bought new luggage that came with a Travel Sentry Lock for a trip on JetBlue, traveling from Austin to California to take our grand daughter to Disneyland.  The lock on my luggage was missing when I retrieved the bag in Long Beach.  Inside was a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Notice of Baggage Inspection, the TSA stamp on the notice so light that it is nearly impossible to read.  It appears to provide the date followed by “BW18105,” but I have no idea whether this code has any significance.

My luggage, bought three days before our trip, is a Kirkland Signature 26″ Spinner Bag with TSAOO2 stamped on its TSA-approved lock.  The lock had three cylinders, with a key hole for use by TSA.  As explained in the instructions that came with the lock, the purpose is to allow access by TSA without damaging the lock.  Nevertheless, my lock was missing when my bag arrived in Long Beach.  My wife’s identical bag and lock arrived unscathed, but it had not been inspected by TSA.

I am aware that TSA is given the job of inspecting luggage using standards not generally known to the public.  That awareness does not lessen the feelings I have had, every time my luggage has been inspected (this makes three times), that my privacy has been violated – my underwear has been rifled; my prescription drugs have been viewed; and my other possessions have been molested.  When a lock made to TSA’s specifications goes missing after an inspection, I have feelings that my government has violated my person and possessions.  The least TSA could do is replace the lock, though I am sure that would take an act of Congress for an item worth no more than $15.

I am a law-abiding senior citizen.  I don’t deserve to have my property violated and destroyed by TSA, though I know that TSA will blame the conveyor belts and take no responsibility for its actions.  But the loss of my $15 lock is insignificant when compared to TSA’s other common offenses.

Last year, we frequently read about the new TSA x-ray machines that show body parts.  To avoid exposing your body to TSA meant that you didn’t fly or you subjected yourself to genital groping by a TSA employee.  Last week, TSA announced that it was discontinuing use of these revealing machines in favor of machines that indicate suspicious areas on a diagram of a human body.  I learned first hand, however, on a flight to Oregon last fall, that these machines can’t distinguish fatty tissue from bomb-making material.  I’m usually good-humored about my fat, but I don’t like it when government employees think it is funny, which is how a TSA employee reacted to the extra adipose tissue under my arm pit.

But many travelers endure real humiliation: strip searches, breast massages, genital gropes, an accusation that a woman had a penis, exposing a 17-year old girl’s bra by pulling her top down, and other humiliating experiences, at times in front of dozens of onlookers, such as in this report:

“Mother is 89 years old, has terminal cancer, weighs 67 pounds, has a colostomy bag and English paperwork from (the) Japanese Government stating so. She speaks no English. They herded everyone through the new machine. Then they select Mother as well as Mrs. EX for extra pat down. Why? No one knows. They get separated, Mother understands nothing. Mrs. EX is not allowed to translate or assist. They call for a Chinese speaking screener, which of course is totally unhelpful. They touch this 89 year old Great Grandmother everywhere. Imagine how that feels for a Japanese citizen! The same with my wife. My goodness, these two little Japanese ladies are going home to Japan, for crying out loud. Incidentally, now they have no view of their belongings in the tray. After ten minutes of touching, groping and needless questioning, they are on their own to look for their belongings. Mrs. EX had two trays, one had her Rolex wristwatch inside. Now there is only one tray and the watch is missing! No help, no assistance, nothing. On top of it, now they have to rush to board. The two ladies are completely upset, crying.”

In a report dated December, 2010, I found this account of an incident at the Austin airport:

“When a computer malfunction caused the lines at the airport to back up and many missed their flights,  Claire Hirschkind, age 56 was one of the first to the security checkpoint.  She said that she could not go through the backscatter machine because she wears a pace maker.  TSA officials told her that she would have to get a ‘pat down’ and she agreed so long as her breasts were not touched.  TSA officers said that they would touch her breasts and when Hirschkind refused to comply she was arrested.  She says that the police pushed her to the ground, handcuffed her and then dragged her across the airport ground while she cried.”

In September, 2011, a Santa Monica, CA, woman wrote about her TSA search experience on her blog:

“Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault. . . . Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, ‘YOU RAPED ME.’ And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.”

The TSA employee hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the blog writer for $500,000, claiming defamation.  It seems that publicly reporting TSA’s abuse leads only to more problems for a citizen.  Although an almost endless stream of TSA abuse reports can be found with a web search, few elected officials have publicly voiced their opposition to this abuse.

For all of this abuse and more, I am ashamed of my government.  It appears that the terrorists did in fact win by causing our government to resort to totalitarian measures, the least of which involve the destruction of my property.  When a government agency engages in sexual assault and emotional abuse at its whim, it engages in an “egregious abuse of power,” as described by a 58-year old woman who endured an invasive body search in Birmingham, Alabama, last November.  And TSA takes no responsibility for its actions.  It even says so on its Notice of Bag Inspection and on the TSA website.  It has become a government agency that behaves no better than King George’s appointees to the colonies 250 years ago.

TSA’s behavior reflects the attitude of a despotic government, which already has access to my emails, my phone records, my phone conversations, and my financial transactions.  After writing about this publicly, I could well be placed on some special TSA list that will assure heightened scrutiny and harassment whenever I fly (which, fortunately, is seldom).

This is not the America that was falsely described to me in public school.  It is not the land of the free, because we have no recourse for such treatment.  It is the land of goons – those hired to terrorize or harm others – who, at their whim, abuse powerless citizens.

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

vietnam-63-20130126-361

Book: “Kill Anything That Moves”: New Book Exposes Hidden Crimes of the War

By Nick Turse

nickturse.com | Jan 30, 2013

9780805086911_custom-d7bde86a53a684d5facba08cf4d2cf39c664ad32-s6-c10Based on classified documents and first-person interviews, a startling history of the American war on Vietnamese civilians

Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by “a few bad apples.” But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of orders to “kill anything that moves.”

Drawing on more than a decade of research in secret Pentagon files and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time how official policies resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded. In shocking detail, he lays out the workings of a military machine that made crimes in almost every major American combat unit all but inevitable. Kill Anything That Moves takes us from archives filled with Washington’s long-suppressed war crime investigations to the rural Vietnamese hamlets that bore the brunt of the war; from boot camps where young American soldiers learned to hate all Vietnamese to bloodthirsty campaigns like Operation Speedy Express, in which a general obsessed with body counts led soldiers to commit what one participant called “a My Lai a month.”

Thousands of Vietnam books later, Kill Anything That Moves, devastating and definitive, finally brings us face-to-face with the truth of a war that haunts Americans to this day.

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“Kill Anything That Moves”: New Book Exposes Hidden Crimes of the War

11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier…
. . .
wired.com | Jan 25, 2013By Noah Shachtman and Robert Beckhusen
The Ear

Cell phones that can identify you by how you walk. Fingerprint scanners that work from 25 feet away. Radars that pick up your heartbeat from behind concrete walls. Algorithms that can tell identical twins apart. Eyebrows and earlobes that give you away. A new generation of technologies is emerging that can identify you by your physiology. And unlike the old crop of biometric systems, you don’t need to be right up close to the scanner in order to be identified. If they work as advertised, they may be able to identify you without you ever knowing you’ve been spotted.

Biometrics had a boom after 9/11. Gobs of government money poured into face and iris recognition systems; the Pentagon alone spent nearly $3 billion in five years, and the Defense Department was only one of many federal agencies funneling cash in the technologies. Civil libertarians feared the worst as face-spotters were turned on crowds of citizens in the hopes of  catching a single crook.

But while the technologies proved helpful in verifying identities at entry points from Iraq to international airports, the hype — or panic — surrounding biometrics never quite panned out. Even after all that investment, scanners still aren’t particularly good at finding a particular face in the crowd, for example; variable lighting conditions and angles (not to mention hats) continue to confound the systems.

Eventually, the biometrics market — and the government enthusiasm for it — cooled off. The technological development has not. Corporate and academic labs are continuing to find new ways to ID people with more accuracy, and from further away. Here are 11 projects.

Above:

The Ear

My, what noticeable ears you have. So noticeable in fact that researchers are exploring ways to detect the ears’ features like they were fingerprints. In 2010, a group of British researchers used a process called “image ray transform” to shoot light rays at human ears, and then repeat an algorithm to draw an image of the tubular-shaped parts of the organ. The curved edges around the rim of the ear is a characteristic — and most obvious — example. Then, the researchers converted the images into a series of numbers marking the image as your own. Finally, it’s just a matter of a machine scanning your ears again, and matching it up to what’s already stored in the system, which the researchers were able to do accurately 99.6 percent of the time. In March of 2012, a pair of New Delhi scientists also tried scanning ears using Gabor filters — a kind of digital image processor similar to human vision — but were accurate to a mere 92 to 96.9 percent, according to a recent survey (pdf) of ear biometric research.

It may even be possible to develop ear-scanning in a way that makes it more reliable than fingerprints. The reason is because your fingerprints can callous over when doing a lot of hard work. But ears, by and large, don’t change much over the course of a lifespan. There’s a debate around this, however, and fingerprinting has a much longer and established history behind it. A big question is whether ear-scanning will work given different amounts of light, or when covered (even partially) by hair or jewelry. But if ear-scanners get to the point of being practical, then they could possibly work alongside fingerprinting instead of replacing them. Maybe in the future we’ll see more extreme ear modification come along as a counter-measure.

Photo: Menage a Moi/Flickr

Odor

Odor

In the early and mid-2000s, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers at Darpa dabbled in something called the “Unique Signature Detection Project,” which sought to explore ways to detect people by their scent, and maybe even spot and identify individuals based on their distinct smells. Darpa’s work ended in 2008. The following year, the Department of Homeland Security fielded a solicitation for research in ways that human scent can indicate whether someone “might be engaging in deception,” specifically at airports and other ports of entry.

Odor detection is still just a research project at the moment. The science is intricate, involving more than 300 chemical compounds that produce human odor. Our personal stinks can change depending on everything from what we eat to our environment. But it may be possible to distinguish our “primary odor” — separate from “secondary” odors based on our diet and “tertiary” odors based on things like soaps and shampoos. The primary odor is the one linked to our genetics, and there have already been experiments with mice, which have been found to produce distinct scents unique to individuals. In 2007, the government’s counter-terror Technical Support Working Group even started a program aimed at collecting and storing human odors for the military’s dog handlers. Dogs, of course, have been used to track people by smell for decades, and are believed to distinguish between humans based on our genetic markers.

Photo: Cabaret Voltaire/Flickr

Heartbeat

Heartbeat

Your chest moves, just a little, every time your heart beats or your lungs take in air. For years, researchers have been monkeying with radars that are sensitive enough to to detect those minuscule chest movements — but powerful enough to do it from hundreds of yards away. Even reinforced concrete walls and electromagnetic shielding won’t stop these radars, or so claim the researchers at the small, Arizona-based defense contractor VAWD Engineering, who are working on such a system for Darpa’s “Biometrics-at-a-distance” program.

The key is the Doppler Effect — the changes in frequency when one object moves relative to another. We hear it all the time, when a fire engine passes by, siren blaring. VAWD says their vehicle-mounted Sense Through Obstruction Remote Monitoring System (STORMS) can pick up even small fluctuations of chests.

STORM (pictured above) “can be used to detect, classify and identify the specific cardiac and pulmonary modulations of a… person of interest,” a company document boasts. By itself, a heartbeat or a breathing rate won’t serve as a definitive biometric. But combine it with soft biometrics (how someone subtly sways when he or she stands) and you’ve got a unique signature for that person that can’t be hidden or covered up.

VAWD says these signature will help improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a “reliable, real time medical status equal to or better than the current devices, while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient.”

But the company also notes that its system performs “automated human life-form target tracking” even when construction materials like “Afghan mud-huts” are in the way. STORM “has already been deployed by the United States Army on one of its most advanced ground vehicles,” the company adds.

Does any of that sound like hospital work to you?

Illustration: Yale University/Wikimedia

Photo: VAWD Engineering

Voice

Most people are likely to be familiar with voice readers on gadgets like the iPhone. But what if there was software that could quickly analyze the voice of thousands, and even use those voices to identify specific people?

Russian biometrics firm Speech Technology Center — known as SpeechPro in the U.S. — has the technology. Called VoiceGrid, the system is able to automatically recognize a person’s voice as their own, provided your voice is pre-recorded in a database and can be recalled by the computer. The company has also developed a version for “large city, county, state or national system deployments.”

It’s seen use in Mexico, according to Slate, “where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints.” The National Security Agency has taken interest in similar technology. So has the FBI. A 2012 presentation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — with the assistance of the FBI — also speculated on potential uses including identifying and clearing people ‘involved in illegal activities,” locating serial killers and identifying arms traffickers (.pdf). Iarpa, the intelligence community’s research agency, has also been looking into ways to solve some of its problems: audio interference mainly. In 2011, the agency concluded its Biometric Exploitation Science and Technology Program (or BEST), which made “speaker recognition advances which included improving robustness to noise, reverberation, and vocal effort, and by automatically detecting these conditions in audio channels,” spokesperson Schira Madan told Danger Room in an email. But we wonder if it’ll detect autotune.

The Iris

The Iris

Imagine a scanner than can look deep inside your eye — from 10 feet away. Actually, you don’t have to think that hard. The technology is already here. Scanners have been developed that can focus in and scan irises from a distance of 10 feet, such the IOM PassPort, developed by government contractor SRI International. The company promises the machine can scan irises at a rate of 30 people per minute — like in high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations. SRI also claims it can see through contact lenses and glasses.

But the longer-range scanners could also see other uses, aside from airports. U.S. troops field existing, short-range and handheld iris scanners to build databases of Afghan eyes as part of a plan to use biometric data to tell civilians apart from insurgents. The Department of Homeland Security has tested iris scanners at a Border Patrol station along the Texas-Mexico border. The FBI has been working on an iris database for federal prisoners, and Google uses them at company data centers. But these systems can be fussy, and require that the targets don’t move too much.

There might be another way. The Pentagon’s scientists at Darpa have funded a research project at Southern Methodist University to develop cameras that can automatically zoom-in and scan irises, kinda like what happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report — and without being blocked by pesky obstructions like eyelashes and glare from light. But another problem is that iris scanners are not the most secure means of identifying people. In July 2012, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Spain discovered a way to spoof the scanners by duplicating iris images stored in databases and creating synthetic copies. That means someone could conceivably steal your eyes, in a way.

Illustration: Air Force

Periocular

Periocular

Spotting someone by their irises is one of the best-developed biometric techniques there is. But Savvides and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues think there may be an equally-promising approach in the area around the eye — also known as the “periocular” region.

The “periocular region has the most dense and the most complex biomedical features on human face, e.g. contour, eyelids, eyeball, eyebrow, etc., which could all vary in shape, size and color,” they wrote in a 2011 paper. (.pdf) “Biologically and genetically speaking, a more complex structure means more ‘coding processing’ going on with fetal development, and therefore more proteins and genes involved in the determination of appearance. That is why the periocular region should be the most important facial area for distinguishing people.”

And unlike other biometrics — the face, for instance — the periocular region stays remarkably stable as a person ages. “The shape and location of eyes remain largely unchanged while the mouth, nose, chin, cheek, etc., are more susceptible to changes given a loosened skin,” the researchers note. In other words, this is a marker for life.

Nearby, Savvides and his colleagues think they’ve found a second biometric: the shape of the eyebrow. Face-scanners are sometimes thrown off when people smile or frown. But the eyebrow shape is “particularly resilient to certain (but not all) expression variations,” the researchers note in a separate, yet-to-be-published paper. And the eyebrow can still be seen, even when the subject has most of his or her face covered.

What’s not fully clear is how the eyebrow biometric responds to threading, shaving or waxing. Saavides, who responded to tons of questions about his research, says there’s no fullproof means to avoid this kind of spoofing. But Saavides is also working on sensors that can analyze multiple facial cues and features, while incorporating algorithms that detect the possibility of a person changing one or two of them. A pair of plucked eyebrows might be a weak match compared to the bushy ones the computer has on file — but the computer could also be smart enough to recognize they’ve been plucked.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Most fingerprint scanners today require physical contact, but constantly being soaked with finger-oil and dirt can also muck-up the machines. For that reason, among others, one developer is working on a scanner that may one day read your fingerprints at a distance of 20 feet.

But first, scanners with a 20-foot distance haven’t hit the market quite yet. One machine called the AIRprint, made by Alabama firm Advanced Optical Systems, has a range of nine feet, and uses two 1.3 megapixel cameras that receives light in different wavelengths: one horizontally polarized, and the other vertically polarized. To sort out the different wavelengths, a device beams light at your fingerprints, which bounce back into the lenses, which then combines the separate wavelengths into a clear picture. A spin-off company called IDair also has a commercial scanner that reaches up to six feet and is marketed toward “security personnel.” IDair’s 20-foot-range machine is currently in development, and is described as functioning similar to satellite imagery.

The military is reportedly an interested customer. The MIT Technology Review surmised that Marines may use them for scanning fingerprints from inside the relative safety of an armored vehicle or behind a blast wall. It beats exposing yourself to the possibility of a suicide bomb attack. For the civilian market, that seems better than pressing your fingertips against a greasy scanner, if you’re comfortable with the idea of having your prints scanned from far away.

Photo: LetTheCardsFall/Flickr

Gait

Gait

Even before 9/11, researchers were floating that notion that you could pick out someone by how he or she walks. And after the Towers fell, Darpa made gait recognition one of the cornerstones of its infamous Total Information Awareness counterterror program.

The problem is that gait can be kind of hard to spot. A briefcase or a bum leg prevents the recognition system from getting a clear view. So filming someone walk didn’t make for a particularly reliable biometric system. Plus, the same person may have multiple gaits — one for walking, and another for running, say.

But the spread of smartphones has opened up a new way of identifying someone’s stride. Androids and iPhones all have accelerometers — sensors that measure how far, how fast, and with how much force an object moves.

“By using the accelerometer sensor in the cell phone, we are able to capture a person’s walking pattern. As it turns out, these patterns are very good biometric traits for people identification. Because it does not require any special devices, the gait biometrics of a subject can even be captured without him or her knowing,” write Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides and his colleagues in a recent paper. (.pdf)

In a small, preliminary study, Savvides and his fellow researchers at the CyLab Biometrics Center claim they were able to get a 99.4% verification rate with the system when the subjects were walking. 61% of the time, they were even able to match someone’s fast-paced gait to their slower one. In other words, you can run…. but with a phone in your pocket, it’s going to be harder to hide.

Photo: sfllaw/Flickr

Sweat

Sweat

The Army wants to see some sweat. No, not workout sweat, but sweat that can betray hostile intentions. In 2010, the Army awarded a nearly $70,000 contract to California security firm Irvine Sensors Corporation to develop software that can use sensors to recognize at “abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature.” The idea was to determine “harmful intent in such military applications as border patrol, stand-off interrogation, surveillance and commercial applications” including surveillance at businesses and “shopping areas.” It’s a bit out there, and still very much in the research stage, but makes a certain kind of sense. Elevated stress levels could give a suspect away when scanned by hyperspectral sensors that read changes in body temperature.

Though a reliable system will have to work in combination with other biometric signals: threatening body movements, facial expressions, iris scans — all of these will also have to be factored into determining whether someone is up to no good. The Army contract, dubbed Image Analysis for Personal Intent, also sought to develop sensors that read these signs from a distance of nearly 150 feet. Perhaps a bit optimistic. But in 2002, a group of scientists in Minnesota managed to determine if military recruits were engaging in deception by scanning for changes in temperature around their eyes. So if you’re at all freaked out about the idea of sweat-scanners, now might be time for a cold shower.

Photo: Army

Advanced Face Recognition

Advanced Face Recognition

Most machines that scan and recognize your face require taking a good, clean look. But now researchers are working on replacing them with scanners that only need a few fragmentary snapshots at much longer ranges than ever before.

One machine that can do it is being developed by defense contractor Progeny Systems Corporation, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. Once a person of interest is spotted, the system captures a 2D image of the person’s face before converting it into 3D. Then, once the image has been converted and filed in a database, it can be quickly recalled when the system spots the person for a second time. That’s because 3D reduces the number of pixels needed to analyze the image, speeding up the process and allowing the system to identify a person with a mere glance. The company also claims the machine works at more than 750 feet.

But a face alone may not be enough to recognize a person with a machine. Everything from lighting conditions to distance can make it harder to get a clear picture, especially if the person being scanned is on the move, in a crowd, or ducking in and out of buildings. Using 3D models makes it easier, but the technology will likely have to be combined with “soft biometrics” like an individual’s gender, height, weight, skin color and even tattoos.

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier, like the group of Swiss scientists working on scanning facial features to detect your emotions. Developers at Carnegie Mellon University have also developed a mobile app called PittPatt –which has since been acquired by Google — that can scan your face and match it up with images you’ve shared over the internet, all in less than a minute.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Rapid DNA Testing

Rapid DNA Testing

It used to be that DNA testing took months to perform, from the time when a DNA sample was picked up on a swab, to analyzing it and creating a DNA profile. Now there are machines that can do it in less than 90 minutes, and the Pentagon wants them.

This month, researchers at the University of North Texas are beginning to test a $250,000 machine for the Defense and Justice Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, so that “casualties and enemies killed in action can be quickly identified in the field,” according to the Biometrics Research Group. But according to the October issue of Special Operations Technology magazine, rapid DNA testing systems co-developed by defense giant Northrop Grumman had already been delivered to “unspecified government customers” beginning back in August. One of those customers is believed to be the FBI. California company IntegenX also has a portable rapid-DNA machine that can analyze molecules taken off everything from clothing to cigarette butts. There’s a simple reason why police are so interested. For a burglar who’s breaking into houses and leaving a DNA trail, the machines could clue-in faster than the burglar is able to continue the spree.

Photo: US Navy

“Cost-effective, hygienic” robots to replace humans at fast-food joints

Honda_s_Asimo_r
Its creators believe their patty-flipping Alpha robot could save the fast-food industry in the United States about US$9 billion (Dh33.05bn) a year. Designed to entirely replace two to three full-time kitchen staff, it can grill a beef patty, layer it with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, put it in a bun, and wrap it up to go – no less than 360 times an hour. Momentum believes kitchen robots are not only more cost-effective than human staff, they are also more hygienic.

California’s Silicon Valley is in the throes of giving birth to its next world-changing technology – robotics.

thenational.ae | Sep 30, 2012

by Tony Glover

Start-up companies are scrambling to develop humanoid-stye robots to cater for a growing demand from both businesses and consumers.

Silicon Valley Robotics, which represents 40 organisations, reports a boom in robotics start-ups in San Francisco in addition to more established companies elsewhere in the area concentrating on industrial robotics.

The start-up robot firm Momentum Machines is one. Funded by San Francisco’s Lemnos Labs, it has developed a robot designed to take the place of humans in burger restaurants. Its creators believe their patty-flipping Alpha robot could save the fast-food industry in the United States about US$9 billion (Dh33.05bn) a year. Designed to entirely replace two to three full-time kitchen staff, it can grill a beef patty, layer it with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, put it in a bun, and wrap it up to go – no less than 360 times an hour. Momentum believes kitchen robots are not only more cost-effective than human staff, they are also more hygienic.

Silicon Valley technology industry watchers believe businesses will be early adopters of 21st-Century robotics technology.

“Like PCs, we’ll likely see the first wave in business because it can handle the costs more readily and then move to the high end of the consumer market,” says the Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at the Enderle Group, based in Silicon Valley.

He adds the robotics industry is at about the same early stage in its evolution as the personal computing industry was in the 1980s but believes it will mature more quickly.

“Up until now we’ve had large industrial robots at one end and limited toys at the other. But suddenly we are starting to see designs that start to explore the true potential of increasingly autonomous devices,” says Mr Enderle.

“Technology is cycling far more quickly now than it did in the 1980s, so I expect that we’ll see a much faster ramp once the first truly viable large-volume products hit the market.”

Many of the big technology investors are, however, awaiting the arrival of another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs before fully committing themselves.

“Apple was the firm that sparked personal computing, where there had been a lot of activity but no successful large-scale production prior to them. We are in the same space, just waiting for that break-out firm to light the fire that will make this market hot,” says Mr Enderle.

But he adds there is an increasing number of firms involved in the race to dominate robotics.

“We are close; we are just waiting for a good spark and this market should move very quickly,” he says

Coincidentally, Apple itself is about to become increasingly reliant on robotics. Foxconn, based in Taiwan, which manufactures Apple iPhones and iPads, is reported to be replacing many of its 1.2 million human staff with robots. Foxconn is said to be planning to spend billions on deploying a worldwide workforce of one million robots.

While this may come as a relief to Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, who is recoiling after a barrage of bad publicity surrounding allegedly poor working conditions at Foxconn, it poses another potential publicity problem. In times of high unemployment, an attempt to replace human workers is problematic.

Just as industrialisation once resulted in mass unemployment among skilled traditional tradesmen in western economies, the coming widespread use of robots in working environments such as factories and restaurants is likely to spark political controversy. Many blue-collar and low-paid so-called “McJobs” in places such as fast-food restaurants are the only work option for millions of people in the US and in other struggling economies.

Silicon Valley companies are not the only contenders to become the Apple of robotics. Although Silicon Valley is trailblazing the robotics industry in the US, there are also other robotics industries springing up around the world. Competition is rapidly emerging from Asia and Europe.

In Japan, Honda’s Asimo robot, standing 130cm in height, not only serves tea but has also been designed to gather and process enough information to generate autonomous behaviour without being controlled by an operator.

Similarly in France, Aldebaran Robotics’ 60cm high Nao is already being used in some classrooms internationally.

Once synergies start to appear between the world’s nascent robotics industries, the speed of innovation is likely to accelerate.

Just as with personal computing, Silicon Valley is set play a crucial role in the development of this industry. In addition to groundbreaking work being done in robotics design, the area has a history of being able to turn cutting-edge but often abstract technology into shiny and desirable mass-produced products. Within the next decade, consumers buying their next PC may opt for one with arms and legs.

“I think this will be the decade of robotics,” predicts Mr Enderle.