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The Rich are Going Mad and the Peastans Had Enough

Cities to Recliam Back their Democracy While the Rich Keeps Playing with Their Toys.

#FearlessCities Notes: Democracy from the Bottom Up: Municipalism and other Stories

Notes from a panel at the Fearless Cities conference, June 10th. See introduction post here.

Hosted by Barcelona en Comú. Born in the heat of 15M. Our common goals are beyond political parties. We’re talking about an alliance of cities. Imagining a different world. Deregulated international free market exceeds the capacity of municipalities, especially housing. Transition from representative to participatory politics. New economic models.

Joan Subirats
Professor of Political Science and Researcher at the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona

Global goals. Municipalism. Cities are waking up to a hopeful situation, in challenge to states held hostage by neoliberalism. Foreign investment pressure. Purchasing great buildings, turn buildings into shares that change hands rapidly, answering the economic needs of financiers rather than the human needs of people. Real estate is just another face of colonisation.

We find ourselves in a process where daily life is mercantalised. Conversion of life into finance. Market logic dissolving society. Tech is presented as a neutral change, but is simply replacing old intermediaries with new ones, Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon.

Can we have an anti-globalising dynamic without closing our states? Maintain openness while resisting neoliberal globalism.

UK Labour party again are talking about nationalisation, after 60 years of silence. A new role for cities? Most places in Spain, the debate was framed as a recovery, citizens taking back their cities, bringing politics into daily life, not just for institutions. Not just ‘smart cities’ which allegedly help everyone, but looking at who actually benefits. In 2015, cities appeared as a place of hope. “Common” is a concept that sits between private and institutional, including the collective answer to social problems.

Right parties privatise public housing, but not those of the workers cooperatives. In Vienna, 1/3rd of the housing owned by cooperatives, outside institutions. New municipalism has new limits.

Debbie Bookchin
Journalist and Writer

Daughter of two longterm municipalists, Beatrice and Murray Bookchin. Beatrice ran on eco-municipalism in Burlington, Vermont in 1978, demanding citizen assemblies. Changed the nature of politics there. Enlivening citizen democracy.

Murray loved Barcelona. Wrote passionately about Spanish anarchism here. Murray was troubled by the economic reductionism of the Marxist left. Searching for more expansion in the definition of freedom, encompassing all oppressions, not just class but race and gender and the rest. He could see capitalism on a collision course with the natural world. He felt you couldn’t save forests, then stop nuclear power, piece-meal; the grow-or-die ethos of capitalism was at odds with the fundamental basis of ecology.

All ecological problems are social problems. Social ecology. We can’t address ecological problems without resolving our addiction to domination and hierarchy. We need to fundamentally alter our social relations.

How do we bring an egalitarian society into being? The municipality is a logical arena to start. People meeting as neighbours rather than different classes. He felt libertarian municipalism offered a third way out of the deadlock between the Marxist and anarchist traditions. Rejects seizing state power. Activists have to acknowledge that we won’t change social change simply by taking our demands to the street. Large encampments/demonstrations challenge the state, but haven’t succeeded in usurping the power of the state. Politics of protest is not enough. Power won’t dissolve, but who will it reside with? Centralised in the state, or localised with the people?

Capitalism is having a terrible impact on the environment, the food we eat, the massive heroin epidemic in the States, a staggering refugee crisis in Europe, massive global suffering. How do we turn our demand for social and economic justice into a new society? We won’t achieve it just by going to the ballot box. Social change won’t occur by voting for the candidate who promises a minimum wage, free education etc. They are nice but won’t transform society, only an activated citizen movement can do that. Voting can transform us instead into mere voters choosing the lesser of two evils. We support candidates who tell us what we want to hear, but in the process support the state that centralises power, taking it from us.

Municipalism insists candidates maintain their mandate from citizens. There have been plenty of isolated examples in history. It’s important that we understand it is more than bringing a progressive agenda to City Hall. It is about a moral calling, based on creativity, community, free association, freedom, a decentralised democracy, where people act together to chart a rational future. Return power to ordinary citizens. We reinvent politics and citizenship. True politics is the opposite of parliamentary politics. It is transparent, candidates 100% accountable to citizens. Delegates, not representatives. Local assemblies transform citizens. Celebratory. We are made new humans by participating. We grow beyond capitalist modernity.

Municipalism takes us beyond anti-state or anti-capitalist environmentalism. It asks us to organise an alternative. How can we bring our ethics with us into our organising? We have an imperative to act in harmony with the natural world.

Today, we are taking the idea of democracy and creating a politics that meets human needs. A politics that recognises that women, who have been on the receiving end of domination, must play a leadership role. A deep longing freedom for a nonhierarchical society, where all voices are head, resources are allocated rationally, where everyone can meet their potential.

Educating fully rounded cities: this happens in local assemblies and forums. Emulate the Barcelona en Comú platform, an ethical guideline for candidates who are delegates of the assembly, not representatives. A minimum program like stopping foreclosures, and a maximum program to build a caring economy and harness technology to reduce toil. Do what conservatives have been doing for decades, run candidates across the board, cities, school boards, mayors, and across borders into other states and regions. Local actors connected to a global network. Climate change can be managed through the confederation of regional/continental delegates. We need lasting local institutions, not just politicians with a social justice agenda, but institutions that are directly responsible to assemblies that are anti-capitalist. This will require time and education, but it is our only hope of creating deep change, becoming the new humans we must be to create a new society.

If we are to transition out of the death spiral of neoliberalism, to a rational society full of humans reaching their potential, we must create a global network of fearless cities, towns, villages. We deserve nothing less.

Ritchie Torres
Deputy Leader, New York City Council

NYC Council. Sole legislature of NYC.

  • How do we achieve progressive municipal governance in a world of federal divestment? Republican Party is intent on defunding the social safety net.
  • How do you bring participatory politics while so deeply entrenched in two-party politics? Many cities have only one real party, so the tent is unworkably big, e.g. a NYC Democrat could be anti-choice, anti-gay etc. Do we create a third party, or create an insurgency within the Democrats?

In the NYC Council, we have the Progressive Caucus, which is an insurgency, founded in 2009. Was at the fringe, now it is in the centre of the power. The Speaker of the Council is a product of the Caucus. Selected the first Latina Speaker in 2013, which has triggered a transformation into much more participatory politics. Public govern millions of dollars of public money now.

Brought a council hearing directly to the housing projects so the urban poor can tell their own stories. Senior citizen told the story of using her oven to heat the house, risking Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Within a month of the hearing, the feds allocated $ 3B of funding for public housing.

One great achievement from the council, we closed a jail facility called Riker’s Island. Story of a young man in the NY Times. Arrested and charged but not convicted of stealing a backpack, stuck in jail for 3 years, 2 of which were in solitary confinement. Repeatedly brutalised by guards and inmates. Traumatised to the extent that he committed suicide. Criminalisation of poverty through bail. Cruelty of solitary confinement. We used that story to create a campaign to close Riker’s Island.

The greatest achievement is that we’ve brought into mainstream a new idea of municipal government. It’s common sense now that local government is not just for filling potholes, it can be a force for equity. That’s a testament to the progressive council and the mayor. We’re not just a legislature, we’re a vehicle for community organising. Being merely a legislature, you will be undermined by legislative and financial activism from the right. But if you’re organising communities, you can make headway.

Planting progressive seeds in a neoliberal garden. It’s not ideal. The pragmatist in me says we have to achieve the most progressive outcomes within the neoliberal US. But the radical in me says use government, especially our budget setting power, to fundamentally change the concept. We’re trying to do both. Rather than a strict separation between progressives and the state, can we have a polis that integrates citizen movements and city institutions?

Sinam Mohamad
Foreign envoy to Rojava Administration North Syria

An honour to present the autonomous region of the north of Syria. Thanks to Barcelona en Comú for organising and inviting me to this amazing event.

Fearless Cities. Means we have to take a lot of effort and struggle, to build these fearless cities. To coexist in peace, social justice, freedom, gender equity, equal rights for all nations. I’m thinking of Syria and Kobanî. Kobanî faced an attack from ISIS, full of fear, everyone frightened by the attack. Rojava autonomous region in north of Syria. Turkish bombs in our cities, villages. Children sleeping with fear, uncertainty. Mothers afraid for their families. Difficult emotions to live there. We struggled for peace, which we have achieved now. We built a democratic administration together. Not just Kurds, a mosaic of religions and nations: Turkmen, Arabs, Syrian, Assyrians, Muslim, Yezidi, Christian, and so on. All agree to coexist in this area. This is our aim, to live together without fear. All the people come together and agree to the social contract.

The first time in the history of Syria that we could speak in the Kurdish language. Assad regime had forbidden the language, we couldn’t speak, go to school, we had no political rights. If you open your mouth, you go to jail. This happened before the Rojava revolution.

We call it the Women’s Revolution. If you don’t organise your society, it will not be strong. If you don’t have an organisation that is very well organised for equal gender, you won’t have a free society. Free women = free society. Constitutionally we have equal genders, 50–50 participation. Co-president system means we have Mr and Mrs Presidents.

Fear means you are dying while you are alive. You can’t be active, you can’t move because you are afraid of everything around you. During Assad’s regime we were so frightened, we couldn’t speak our will. Because of that we recognise the importance of the fearless city. Remember when the Yezidi women were made into sexual slaves by ISIS and radical Muslims. They sold our Kurdish and Yezidi women in the 21st Century! What’s happening in this world?

In the Middle East, everything depends on nation states. One nation (Syria for us), one language (Arabic). Denies all other nations, all other languages. Makes us very poor.

When we have democratic administration for coexistence, everyone has the right to participate in their local area. Regardless of nationality. We are doing this successfully in Rojava, though of course great challenges. Chauvinist attitudes are an obstacle. We depend on unity through diversity, but they are against it. Radical Islam attacks us still. We have the Syrian democratic forces fighting in the capital city of ISIS, and they are defeating them. Maybe in the near future, you will hear that ISIS have been defeated in their capital city.

When I’m talking about decentralised, democratic self rule, municipalities, we in Rojava have built it in an extremely difficult situation. Embargo, besieged, terrorist attack, chauvinist mentality. In spite of all this, we built our municipalism. We have 130 municipalities in north of Syria. In Jazira have been attacked repeatedly, 10 leaders have been killed since 2014 when we started. The attackers do not want a democratic system, they want the centralised authority and strict control.

We have 70 of 130 that are not so active, because of the economic embargo from Turkey and violence from the regime and others. We welcome 100k displaced people from the region now in our regions. More than 500k people displaced from Iraq. Shameful lack of support from international community.

In Afrin, Kobanî, Jazira, in each municipality, we want to join your global network to have your support and grow our network beyond Syria. You’ve seen Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia… the Middle East is under fire, people fighting each other. Syrian against Syrian. This is the result of the nation state. Nation states always bring confusion and conflict within the territory, and with neighbouring territories.

The Assad regime told us ‘beware of Arabs, beware of Christians’, then they go to the Christians and tell them ‘beware of Kurds, they want a Kurdish state’. They create conflicts amongst all the people of Syria. Citizens look at each other as enemies. In northern Syria we have changed this mentality. All different types, working together, building a beautiful life for our children.

Iago Martínez
Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office, A Coruña City Council

One feels a bit frivolous talking about this after hearing the last talk. Listening to brothers and sisters from other regions is very inspiring, after exhausting years here in Spain.

I’m going to talk about the book of Joan Sobadiz. Proximity. Three ways to explain what we are doing. For us it has been an urgency, a hypothesis, but now it is real power. We thought the city scale made it possible to imagine other political realities. A daily experience of the commons.

Example of how proximity is an urgency. We followed a right wing party who had increased poverty by 50% in a few years. Many people couldn’t receive help from the state, e.g. migrants. So we started social programs to support everyone, e.g school lunches. Now we are reducing poverty at the fastest rate.

National government is at war with local government. We are recovering sovereignty. Sometimes we can do it alone. Hard to put resources in common without losing sovereignty.

Yesterday, a colleague was saying about things built from top down are destroyed from top down. Let’s turn it around. Take top-down and make it horizontal. Think in proximity. We can’t rest. Over time as we leap in scale, let’s ask who are we leaving behind, who are we losing? Which tools are no longer needed? Where are we failing? We can’t turn our backs for a moment or we’ll lose it.

Chloe Eudaly
Commissioner, Portland City Council

Newcomer to electoral politics. Came of age as an activist, reading Bookchin. Was a radical bookseller. Until 18 months ago had no interest in electoral politics, never interacted with my representatives. Didn’t feel welcome or effective there. Have come full circle due to encountering this municipalist movement.

Tell my story as an unconventional outsider candidate. As an independent bookseller, not a great way to make lots of money, but a way to do my activism: providing an outlet for unheard voices, a gathering space for community, hosting lectures, readings, art shows, etc. Been involuntarily displaced from 2 homes as rent rose 60%. Made it impossible to continue my work. Searching for affordable housing, found an ad for a tiny house in Hawthorne for $ 950/mo. Found a strange dwelling, 165 sq. ft, toilet across from the kitchen sink, more expensive per square foot than a swanky Paris apartment. Single mom with a kid with a disability. His equipment wouldn’t fit, let alone our bodies and the rest of our stuff.

Posted on Facebook, got a big response. People said it was a garden shed you could buy from a hardware store and assemble yourself. Someone had bought it, finished it marginally, then rented it out to capitalise on the price of property. Started a Facebook group. All kinds of people joined. Random strangers encouraged me to run for council. I thought I’m unqualified, uneducated, don’t have the credentials to be a politician. People didn’t relent. I figured ‘why not’ because I couldn’t afford to be a bookseller any more.

The incumbent raised 5X more than me, my campaign was almost entirely volunteer run on Facebook. I hated asking people for money, so we raised $ 100k on Facebook rather than over the phone.

November 8th, best and worst day of my life, I had won on the same day as Trump. Thankful to be in a position to protect our city from national outrages.

Increased tenant protections to slow down tide of displacement. Divestment of all corporate securities. Passed the strongest renewables resolution in the country, with a pledge to abide by the Paris Accord regardless of the president’s wishes. We’re about to embark on our first participatory budgeting process with $ 500k.

#FearlessCities Notes: Democracy from the Bottom Up: Municipalism and other Stories

America’s Rich Are Completely Losing Touch With Reality — and That’s a Really Bad Sign

The divide between wealthy and working class has grown wider each year since the last financial crisis, but this disconnect is about much more than just money or politics. The super-rich, in particular, have become completely detached from the everyday problems facing millions of their fellow citizens. Instead of recognizing the urgency of the current situation and contributing to solutions that help empower all members of society, the focus for many has shifted toward simply indulging in the present moment and increasing luxury. This kind of self-centered worldview has emerged throughout history and typically thrives most when decadent empires start to crumble.

Right now, the average person is forced to worry about central banks devaluing their currencies, corrupt bureaucrats eroding their civil liberties, and an economy on life support. Meanwhile, a faction of affluent individuals has committed themselves to avoiding the turmoil around them, instead choosing to obsess over life extension, genetic manipulation, and creating luxurious doomsday plans. Those people who have the crucial intellect, resources, and influence needed to implement real change are consumed with self-interest to the point of total apathy towards the future.

One of the more disturbing trends has been a rise in interest regarding something called parabiosis. This practice involves blood transfusions between the young and old in an attempt to slow the aging process. The procedure has been studied in the past but has always been met with moral and scientific criticism. Recently, however, a California start-up called Ambrosia began offering clients the opportunity to purchase the blood of someone under the age of 25 for a mere $ 8,000.

The process gained attention after Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel came out in support of further research during an interview:

“I’m looking into parabiosis stuff, which I think is really interesting. This is where they did the young blood into older mice and they found that had a massive rejuvenating effect. And so that’s … that is one that … again, it’s one of these very odd things where people had done these studies in the 1950s and then it got dropped altogether. I think there are a lot of these things that have been strangely underexplored.”

The blood used for these transfusions is often purchased from blood banks without informing the original donors. Popular high-school blood drives could soon have a whole new incentive to encourage students to participate. Any possible medical advancements that can help improve the lives of sick people should be explored, but for a private business to benefit directly from the generosity of others without their consent is a bit unnerving.

The question of whether this treatment is effective or not is almost a secondary issue to the ethical one. What does it show about our society when the priority of so many is not building a better world for the next generation but, rather, appeasing their egos by desperately clinging to their youth? The similarity to vampirism can’t be overlooked and may be another sign that, in the end, the truth is stranger than fiction.

The super-wealthy who can see the dangers facing the world are also fine with hitting the eject button to their own private bunkers in a worst-case scenario. The prepping community that was once isolated to ‘conspiracy theorists’ and survivalist groups has now been adopted by the 1%. Several billionaires have even gone so far as to buy entire islands to guarantee they won’t be swept up in the panic of the masses.

Tim Chang, the managing director at a financial firm called the Mayfield Fund, spoke to a reporter at the New Yorker about some of the conversations going on in these circles:

“There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens…I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to….I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”

While the ideas of democratic socialism have spread throughout the country, it’s clear that extreme individualism has developed on the other side. The majority of those with the means to care for themselves and their families have abandoned any connection to the rest of society. As long as the impact of the coming upheaval doesn’t affect them directly, it appears the fate of the rest is irrelevant.

The mentality of the nation has transitioned from proactive to reactive, with a sense of inevitability about the ultimate outcome we’re all facing. There is almost no effort to openly discuss the growing prospect of a civil war or severe economic breakdown, even as it grows more plausible in the minds of those paying attention. This obsession on the part of the super-rich for god-like control over their destinies only shows the fear that overwhelmingly dictates their choices. Maybe the modern day peasants of society should simply heed the advice of Marie Antoinette and eat cake while the world burns.

America’s Rich Are Completely Losing Touch With Reality — and That’s a Really Bad Sign

McDonald's hits all-time high as Wall Street cheers replacement of cashiers with kiosks
Cowen says McDonald's will upgrade 2,500 restaurants to its "Experience of the Future" technology by year-end, which includes digital ordering kiosks.
The firm raises its rating on McDonald's to outperform from market perform and price target for the shares to $ 180 from $ 142.
Same store sales estimate for 2018 raised to 3 percent from 2 percent.

McDonald's shares hit an all-time high on Tuesday as Wall Street expects sales to increase from new digital ordering kiosks that will replace cashiers in 2,500 restaurants.

Cowen raised its rating on McDonald's shares to outperform from market perform because of the technology upgrades, which are slated for the fast-food chain's restaurants this year.

McDonald's shares rallied 26 percent this year through Monday compared to the S&P 500's 10 percent return.

Andrew Charles from Cowen cited plans for the restaurant chain to roll out mobile ordering across 14,000 U.S. locations by the end of 2017. The technology upgrades, part of what McDonald's calls "Experience of the Future," includes digital ordering kiosks that will be offered in 2,500 restaurants by the end of the year and table delivery.

"MCD is cultivating a digital platform through mobile ordering and Experience of the Future (EOTF), an in-store technological overhaul most conspicuous through kiosk ordering and table delivery," Charles wrote in a note to clients Tuesday. "Our analysis suggests efforts should bear fruit in 2018 with a combined 130 bps [basis points] contribution to U.S. comps [comparable sales]."

He raised his 2018 U.S. same store sales growth estimate for the fast-food chain to 3 percent from 2 percent.

The analyst raised his price target for McDonald's to $ 180 from $ 142, representing 17.5 percent upside from Monday's close. He also raised his 2018 earnings-per-share forecast to $ 6.87 from $ 6.71 versus the Wall Street consensus of $ 6.83.

"MCD has done a great job launching popular innovations within the context of simplifying the menu, while introducing more effective value initiatives that have recently begun to improve the brand's value perceptions," he wrote.

A McDonald's spokeswoman sent the following statement in response to this story:

"Our CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said on many occasions that self-order kiosks in McDonald's restaurants are not a labor replacement. They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they are able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience."

— CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this story.

McDonald's hits all-time high as Wall Street cheers replacement of cashiers with kiosks

Source: ONTD_Political

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