Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We Must End Global Oligarchy

by Bernie SandersCommon Dreams: 


One of the major, untold stories of our time is the rapid movement toward global oligarchy, in which just a handful of billionaires now own and control a significant part of the world economy.

Here in the United States, the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Incredibly, according to a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies, three of the richest people in America—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett—now own more wealth than bottom 160 million people in our country.

But this is clearly not just an American issue. It is a global issue. While millions of people throughout the world live in dire poverty, without clean drinking water, adequate health care, decent housing, or education for their kids, the six wealthiest people in the world as ranked by Forbes Magazine own more wealth, according to Oxfam, than the bottom half of the world's population, 3.6 billion people.

This massive level of wealth and income inequality, and the political power associated with that wealth, is an issue that cannot continue be ignored. We must fight back.
 
Thanks to the so-called Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its collaborating news outlets, we now have a better understanding of how the largest corporations and wealthiest people in the world avoid paying their taxes and hide ownership of assets. Needless to say, these billionaires are all strong supporters of our military, our veterans, our infrastructure, our schools and other government services. They would just prefer that you pay for those activities, not them.
 
According to the ICIJ's investigative reporting, the Americans listed as having offshore accounts in the Paradise Papers, (which have not been independently reviewed by CNN), are a who's who of billionaires, some of whom are the very same officials who have led the effort to promote the Republican tax plan, which would provide even more tax-avoiding opportunities to the very rich.
 
Even before these revelations, we knew that tax dodging by the wealthy and large corporations, not just in the US but globally, was taking place on a massive scale. In 2012, the Tax Justice Network, a British advocacy group, estimated that at least $21 trillion was stashed in offshore tax havens around the world. In other words, while governments enact austerity budgets, which lower the standard of living of working people, the super-rich avoid their taxes.
 
According to Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, individuals in the US are avoiding $36 billion through offshore tax schemes and US corporations are avoiding more than $130 billion through these schemes. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Caymans is now the "home" of nearly 20,000 corporations—and that is just one of many tax havens operating across the globe.
 
The essence of oligarchy is that the billionaire class is never satisfied with what they have. They want more, more and more—no matter what impact their efforts have on working people, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor. Greed is their religion. While the oligarchs are avoiding their taxes, Trump and his Republican colleagues, ostensibly in order to save federal dollars, have been trying to throw tens of millions of Americans off of their health insurance, and make massive cuts in education, nutrition assistance and affordable housing.
 
As a candidate for president, Trump promised that he would stand up for the working class of this country. Needless to say, that was a lie. Almost half of the benefits in the Trump/Republican tax plan would go to the top 1%, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Additionally, they want to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, even though in 2012 one out of every five large, profitable corporations in the US paid no federal income taxes at all and between 2008 and 2015, 18 corporations had a tax rate lower than 0%.
 
Republicans also want to make it easier for companies to shelter their profits overseas and pay zero taxes. The "territorial tax system" they are proposing, which means companies would be taxed only on income earned within our country's borders, would exempt the offshore profits of American corporations from US taxes and allow for a one-time 12% tax on their offshore cash profits when brought back into the United States.
 
Meanwhile, while the wealthy and large corporations are receiving huge tax breaks, nearly half of middle-class families would actually see their taxes go up by the end of the decade by eliminating deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest rates, state and local income and sales taxes, and the cost of health insurance for the self-employed.
 
The Paradise Papers make it clearer than ever that we need, in the United States and throughout the world, a tax system which is fair, progressive and transparent.
 
Now is the time, in the United States and internationally, for people to come together to take on the greed of the oligarchs. We can and must create a global economy that works for all, not just a handful of billionaires.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Return of the S-Word in the US: As Market Fundamentalism is Falling Out of Favour, Especially Among the Young, Socialist Ideas are Gaining Traction

A spectre is haunting the US, and conservatives are worried. A new study from the admirably impartially named Victims of Communism Memorial Fund has found that 50% of US millennials would prefer to live in a communist or socialist system, significantly more than the 42% who opted to continue living under capitalism. ‘Millennials’, ran a Fox News headline, ‘think that socialism would create a great safe space.’
Disturbingly also for the organization that commissioned the poll, Karl Marx attracts a 31% favorability rating from millennials while Lenin, the architect of the Russian Revolution whose 100th anniversary takes place this week, attracts a very respectable 23% rating. This is higher than the approval rating of millennials for the US President himself – a recent poll carried out by NBC put this figure at 21%. At least Trump is more highly regarded than Stalin who earns a mere 6% approval although the much higher ratings for Lenin than for Stalin must drive the people at Fox crazy given their penchant for throwing Marx, Lenin and Stalin into the same category of tyrants and fanatics.
Fox is especially troubled by the findings that reveal that a significant minority of Americans don’t share its fundamentalist attitude towards the First Amendment. Some 43% of millennials and 42% of all Americans think that there should be restrictions on freedom of expression in order to prevent ‘offensive speech’. Rather than seeing this as evidence, as does Fox, of a knee-jerk political correctness, it is rather a welcome rejection of a corporation-friendly interpretation of the First Amendment and a sign that Americans are seeking to protect vulnerable groups from harm.
Now you might think that this is just another bogus opinion poll or agree with the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu who argued that because of its constructed nature, ‘public opinion does not exist’. But the poll was carried out by the generally well-regarded pollsters YouGov and, more significantly, chimes with two other polls carried out in the US in the last eighteen months both of which contained similar conclusions. Gallup reported that people aged between 18 and 29 were equally sympathetic towards capitalism and socialism while Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that a majority of under-30s were hostile, rather than sympathetic, to capitalism even if the numbers supporting socialism were not quite at the same level of those backing capitalism.
How can we explain these shocking trends that, in the words of the very frustrated director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, show that ‘millennials are increasingly turning away from capitalism and toward socialism and even communism as a viable alternative’?
To be honest, given the current prospects for millennials and post-millennials, it’s a miracle that the support for capitalism is holding up at all.
Student debt, something that their predecessors barely had to confront, now stands at $1. 4 trillion with the average millennial owing around $30,000. This is a generation that is increasingly priced out of affordable housing and is facing a slump in wages, the lowest since 1980. According to the New York Times, millennials ‘are faced with a slow economy, high unemployment, stagnant wages and student loans that constrict their ability both to maintain a reasonable lifestyle and to save for the future.’ And yet they still have the audacity to reject capitalism and to consider alternatives.
Not surprisingly, they are also the generation most likely to express dissatisfaction with the electoral system and turned to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election in huge numbers with 56% having a positive view of Sanders as compared to only 38% for Clinton and 22% for Donald Trump.
Millennials aren’t alone, however, in having real doubts about the fairness of US society. The YouGov poll shows that ‘concerns about inequality are prevalent’ across the board. While 53% of millennials believe that the US economic system ‘works against me’, 48% of all Americans believe this to be true. Less than one-third of those polled think that the rich pay enough tax while nearly half want to see higher taxes for the rich with 37% arguing for a ‘complete change to our economic system’.
The conditions are ripe, therefore, for the sympathy to be turned into concrete support for socialist ideas. Naturally this will require the development of popular socialist organisations, a phenomena which – despite the bump provided by the horror of the Trump presidency – is taking place painfully slowly. The biggest socialist organization, Democratic Socialists of America, has some 30,000 members while the Sanders campaign has fragmented into different constitutive parts of the Democrats.
The message is clear, however, that socialist ideas are gaining traction as market fundamentalism has burnt its bridges especially with the young.

Millennials (and everyone else): you increasingly have nothing to lose but your debt. And a world to win.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

How to Reinvent Your City, Burning Man Style

This post originally appeared at Shareable.net
Every August for one week, the Burning Man festival takes place in a temporary city of its own creation, called Black Rock City after Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where it is located. This year, Black Rock City’s population will be 60,000 — bigger than Carson City, the state capital of Nevada.
Our real-world cities, meanwhile, are struggling to provide the services citizens need, limited by declining tax income, record debt, and increasingly complex social issues. Cities have no choice but find ways to do more with less. Many seek to harness the creative energies of citizens to fill the gaps, asking them to take a more active role in governance, service provision, and even in creating new services.
It’s easy to write off Burning Man as a hippie love fest in the desert. It has its own problems like any city, but that's selling it short, especially in one regard - its remarkable ability to foster participation. The event -- which for 26 years has expected participants to practice sharing, gifting, and radical self-reliance -- is an effective proving ground for experiments in community self-organization. In fact, participants build most of the city without any direct oversight from organizers.
Given that cities need its citizens more than ever, can the lessons of Burning Man’s Black Rock City, which pushes citizen participation to the limit, be applied to modern cities? Of course they can. Here are a few ways you can support participation, sharing and community in your own town.
First, Adopt the Right Mindset: There are No Spectators 
Michel Bauwens, the founder of the Peer to Peer Foundation, believes that the proper role of government in our emerging networked society is that of partner in social production. This means that in a myriad ways government helps citizens help themselves. This turns the existing model of government as a top-down service provider on its head. Instead, government works in a bottom up fashion to empower citizens to provide for themselves.
Burning Man does exactly this. It fosters a culture of participation through its Ten Principles and provide basic infrastructure such as roads, sanitation, and safety, which, by the way, rely heavily on volunteer labor. Participants fill in the blanks beautifully with a seemingly unlimited number of options for care, connection, artistic expression, education, sustenance, and fun. At Burning Man, there are no spectators. Likewise, we increasingly need cities where every citizen is intimately involved in creating their city on a day to day basis.
Crowdsource The Budget 
Almost none of the hundreds of art projects exhibited at Burning Man are fully funded by the festival. Many of them are crowdfunded through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This requires active community participation, and it also organically vets projects ensuring that the best ideas are likely to be funded.
The city of Vallejo, California is taking this idea for a spin, testing out participatory budgeting for 30 percent of its funds. Community members decide which projects to fund, and must work together to get the funding approved.
"If you live in northern Vallejo and you want a bus shelter, then you know what, you've got to partner with people in other parts of the city who want bus shelters too," Councilmember Marti Brown told The Atlantic Cities. "People are going to have to learn how to think like that. It encourages people to work with groups they've never worked with before."
Vallejo is the first to try participatory budgeting city-wide, though it’s now being considered in San Francisco. Want to see participatory budgeting in your city? Get involved.
Build Your Own Bank 
Burning Man famously bans all exchange of money, recommending that people share and “gift” their resources within the community. That’s not likely to happen in the rest of the world very soon — but with the recession, the housing boom-and-bust and the financial crisis all tightly linked to the banking industry, an ever-growing number of people are ditching their Wall Street banks for citizen owned banks like credit unions and public banks. A new report suggests that a public banking could reverse the effects of recent consolidation, bolster the treasuries of government banks, and put financial controls back in the hands of the people.
Though common in Germany and elsewhere, The Bank of North Dakota is currently the only state-run bank in the United States, and it’s been hailed as an “economic miracle.” Could each city or county set up a local bank to create its own community miracle? It certainly could.
Share Your Profits 
There’s another way to share your money and your values with your community: Join a local cooperative and encourage your city government to support the growth of the cooperative sector. Coops are owned and controlled by either workers or customers. They are more democratic, community-minded, and more stable job creators than most private businesses.
Did you know that 120 million Americans belong to at least one cooperative? That 25 percent of the nation’s electric grid is cooperatively owned? 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives, and this proven, fast-growing business model is offers many advantages over conventional, tightly controlled private businesses.
Worker-owned businesses like The Evergreen Cooperatives are addressing poverty and unemployment, helping money stay in the community where previous charity initiatives have failed. National coops are booming too, including chains like ACE Hardware which help mom-and-pop shops stay open.
Hitch, Surf & Crash 
Want to live well on a budget at Burning Man? Pool your resources with a “camp” of anywhere from five to 500 people, who share kitchens, showers, shelters and even transportation so that everyone can afford access to these necessities.
Want to live well on a budget in your city? Use the same logic: join a car-sharing programtry out a coworking spaceshare your lodging and, if you’re traveling, rent somebody’s empty room instead of shelling out for a hotel.
Many cities are beginning to adopt community bike programs (of which Black Rock City also has one), but beyond that, there is plenty of room to expand. City-run sharing networks could generate income while saving residents money.
Think it’s a good idea? You might need to start your own. And encourage your city to adopt sharing-friendly policies.
Plug In to the Resource Grid 
Just a few months ago, Burning Man launched a tool called Spark. Designed to facilitate collaboration between attendees, the site allows anyone to create a free “ad” for services or resources needed or offered (on a gift basis). Today’s ads include a call for carpenters, an offer to “freeze anything” and several musicians looking for performance opportunities.
Resource sharing is complicated mostly because it can’t be done over longer distances. Sites like Craigslist, Freecycle and Taskrabbit are good places to start active collaboration on projects, and new platforms are being developed that will further facilitate getting things done without buying a bunch of supplies. One new platform-in-progress, Social Alchemy, is being developed by Burners Without Borders’ leader Carmen Mauk and hopes to be a collaborative project management tool — for example, helping relief workers in disaster areas find the equipment and labor they need to do their work more efficiently.
You might need to start your own local sharing network using a service like ShareTribe — but first, check Craigslist, Freecycle and your local tool lending library to find out what’s already going on.
Reprogram Your Government 
Burning Man organizers lay out the roads and some infrastructure, then allow the population to build its own city. In the rest of America, we don’t have as much creative control — but many of us are exercising much less control than we could, often because of the difficulties of dealing with bureaucratic government bodies.
Do you want transparent, efficient government? Participatory budgeting? Streamlined voting? Easy access to your representatives? It’s all made more possible with technology.Code for America is a group that works with city governments, helping them transform their information infrastructure to improve citizen engagement, efficiency and transparency. Can you help your city adopt new social technologies? Yes, you can.
“As our futures are increasingly becoming urban, cities need to start experimenting with citizen participatory process,” says James Hanusa, New Initiatives Consultant to Burning Man. He points to the Urban Prototyping project, which seeks citizen participation in redesigning San Francisco public spaces, and the Burning Man Project, which supports the application of Burning Man's Ten Principles in many communities.
These ideas just scratch the surface. Much more can be done to make cities as participatory as Burning Man. And while the above innovations increase citizen participation, they lack one thing Burning Man offers.
Black Rock City is manifested by thousands of people in the spirit of celebration. The passion of participants is unmistakable. They are drawn into the civic drama by the drama of their own self-actualization. They experience — sometimes for the first time — what it’s like to be accepted completely in public, and so are willing to give their best to the city that invites the best in them. This is the way the city is made, and how it makes people.
The true flowering of cities may not occur until the civic is married to the celebratory. This too is within reach.
  
Jessica Reeder is a member of the Black Rock City Department of Public Works, and occasionally writes for the Burning Blog.
Image by Christopher, licensed under Creative Commons 

Monday, 23 October 2017

New Website Helps Communities Build ‘Good’ Local Economies: Online Toolkit Shows How Economic Development Can be Driven by Communities Rather Than Imposed From Above

by the New Economics Foundation: http://neweconomics.org/2017/10/new-website-helps-communities-build-good-local-economies/

A new website will help councils and community organisations to build ‘good’ local economies.
Launched by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the New Economics Foundation, with funding from the Friends Provident Foundation, it brings together case studies from across the UK on housing, finance, energy, procurement and commissioning, and local economics.
Called ‘Building a Good Local Economy’, the website sets out the powers and resources currently available to both local government and local communities to help them improve local housing provision, build up local energy supplies and create a thriving local economy.
Building a Good Local Economy website
Building a Good Local Economy website
Case studies include Homebaked, a bakery in the shadow of Liverpool football club that has become a model of community-led regeneration, and Manchester and Preston Councils’ work using local procurement budgets to build community wealth.
The website is part of the Good Local Economies programme, run by CLES and NEF for the last two years, which this year has worked with five cities – Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Leeds – to help them activate and model new approaches to local economic development.
The website aims to become a comprehensive database of projects across the UK that are challenging the dominant approach to local development. If you would like your project to be included, contact Clare Goff.

Monday, 16 October 2017

U.S. Mayors Agree that Everyone Needs a Great Park Within a 10-Minute Walk: Non-profits, 134 Mayors Launch National 10-Minute Walk to a Park Campaign

by Adrian Benepe, Children and Nature Network: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-mayors-agree-everyone-needs-a-great-park-within_us_59dbb212e4b0a1bb90b83001



JENNA STAMM

Children play in a schoolyard converted to a community playground in Philadelphia.

At a time when Americans are fractured by politics and policies, there is one thing
most of us agree on and which has broad, bi-partisan support—convenient access
to a high quality park.
Today, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) launched the
10-Minute Walk to a Park Campaign with the support of 134 mayors from cities 
across America and from both sides of the political aisle. These mayors signed on during the past year, endorsing the goal of providing every neighborhood with a 
quality park that improves life for city residents, serves as a safe place for people to gather, and adds to the beauty of the city.
Great parks are one of the anchors of healthy, sustainable communities and vibrant American cities. Today, more than 85 percent of the US population lives either in a
city or a suburb, and the research is clear that close-to-home parks boost the
wellbeing of entire neighborhoods. Parks play vital roles in enhancing
environmental sustainability, absorbing carbon and other air pollutants, lowering temperatures, and capturing storm water runoff. They are also crucial to public 
health—data show that when people live near parks they exercise more. Parks also enhance property values, and create community cohesion by bringing diverse
people together in social settings. Cities that invest in parks and open spaces are directly benefiting local residents and their physical and mental health by creating
life-enhancing ways to get outdoors and be active.
In cities across America, mayors and park directors are working with other elected officials, citizens, and non-profit partners to come up with visionary ways to pay for
new parks, and improve existing parks.
For example, the city of Houston has made a bold and ambitious goal to increase
the number of residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park from 48 percent
to 75 percent by 2040. To do this, they have made improved access part of its
official park master plan. Working with a non-profit partner known as Spark Parks,
city officials are identifying scores of schoolyards that could be converted into community parks. Likewise, in hundreds of cities across the country, underused schoolyards represent the “low-hanging fruit”—land already owned by the city,
possibly not even needing major improvement—just the stroke of a policy pen to
make them “joint-use’ facilities and creating more nearby outdoor spaces for tens of millions of Americans.

SPARK SCHOOL PARK PROGRAN

Matthys Elementary School Park in Houston, newly renovated and opened to the community through the SPARK Parks program.

In Los Angeles County last year, residents approved Measure A, which will
generate at least $1.8 billion—$100 million a year, indefinitely—for new and
improved parks across the county. In Boston, voters also last year approved a
Community Preservation Act measure that will generate $20 million for the same 
cause, and New York City has allocated $300 million to renovate 70 small parks and playgrounds in under-served areas. In Minneapolis and San Francisco (which 
recently became the first city in America where 100 percent of its residents have a 
park within 10-minute walk), park leaders worked with community residents and 
local leaders to solve equity problems, and to make sure everyone, regardless of income or race, has access to high quality parks. Both cities have set aside large amounts of funding to ensure equitable park quality.

ALEX RANDOLPH

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announces that his city is the first to have 100% of its residents within a 10-minute walk of a park at an event in Hilltop Park.

So, where did the “10-minute walk” idea come from? For several decades, city
planners and social scientists have measured distances people will travel on foot to basic services such as shopping, schools, or transit. They concluded that half a
mile is about as far as people will reasonably walk. Though walking speeds vary,
the U.S Department of Transportation agrees that most people can walk a half-mile
in 10 minutes.
Nearly 17 years ago, at an all-staff gathering of The Trust for Public Land, Will
Rogers, who still serves as the organization’s President, talked about headlines he hoped to see in the next decade. One of those headlines was his prediction that the NRPA and US Conference of Mayors would join TPL in working to ensure that no
one lived “more than a 10-minute stroller ride from a park or playground.” A few
years later, in an article penned for the American Planning Association Journal in
2004, Peter Harnik documented cities that had standards for how far residents 
should have to walk to get to a nearby park. Harnik, then Director of The Trust for 
Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, found that most cities had no 
standards, and those that did ranged from a tenth of a mile to a mile, with about half having a half-mile as the standard.

A year later, Jack T. Linn, Assistant Commissioner in the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, developed a new standard for the ideal walking distance to a 
park. He determined that it should be measured in time, not distance, and proposed
that every New Yorker should have a park or playground within a 10-minute walk.
As a centerpiece of PlaNYC’s park and environment program, the Mayor called for converting 250 part-time, asphalt schoolyards into full-time community playgrounds,
used by schools during school hours but available to neighborhood residents after school and on weekends. That move, accompanied by $150 million to improve the playgrounds, led to a 15 percent increase in the number of New Yorkers who had a
park or playground within a 10-minute walk.

NOMI ELLENSON

The old asphalt schoolyard at La Cima Charter School in Brooklyn, NY was converted by The Trust for Public Land to a green community playground that also captures stormwater runoff.

Last June, the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) validated Will Rogers’ prediction
by officially endorsing the 10-Minute walk in a resolution introduced at its national gathering. The USCM resolution said, in part “that the United States Conference of Mayors supports the goal for cities to increase the number of people in urban
America who live within a 10-minute walk of a high-quality park; that the [USCM] will celebrate mayors that make quality parks and access to them a first-tier solution to
their municipal challenges; and that the [USCM] supports investments in parks and
open spaces with the goal for everyone in urban American to live within a 10-minute walk of a high-quality park.”
There was another major challenge for the 10-Minute Walk partners when they
launched the campaign nearly three years ago: How could they know how many
people had 10-minute walk access to a park in the 14,000 communities within the
3,000 areas defined as “urban” by the U.S. Census Bureau? The answer came in
TPL’s award-wining Geographic Information Systems (GIS) unit, which created ParkServe, an effort to find and map all the parks in those 14,000
communities, and then to figure out how many lived within or outside of the
10-minute walk “service areas” of those parks. Working with the help of Esri, the
world’s leading GIS mapping company, and using their Network Analyst software,
they are tracing the street network to determine if and how someone could walk to a park—without encountering barriers such as freeways, rivers and canals, or railroad tracks.
ParkServe, now underway for two and a half years, has already surveyed 7,600 of
the 14,000 communities, encompassing 67 percent of the U.S. population. Based
on preliminary analysis, they estimate that as many as 150 million Americans may
not have a park within a 10-minute walk. ParkServe is also generating the nation’s
first-ever database of urban parks and providing tools that city officials and citizens
alike can use to help identify park deserts and the best ways to add green oases.
So now that the campaign is officially launched, and is supported by 134 mayors,
how do we close that gap for so many Americans?
First, the three partners, TPL, NRPA, and ULI, working with other non-profit organizations, will engage with mayors and cities to deploy tools and strategies to
help them increase access to new parks and improve existing parks, building on successful models and strategies already in place. TPL and ULI experts in
conservation and urban park finance are working with cities to identify both
traditional and new sources of funding for park creation and improvement, from
voter measures and bonds to tax-increment financing and social impact bonds. ULI
will use its 51 regional councils to work with local leaders and deploy advisory
panels representing developers, planners, financiers, economists, and public
officials to provide practical and objective advice to cities.
The campaign soon will launch a competitive grant program, challenging cities to
come up with innovative approaches to adding and improving parks. This program
will build on traditional NRPA strengths in research on best practices, case studies,
and comprehensive data, including its Safe Routes to Parks program, to help make
the case for expanded park funding.
So, with all this effort and energy, Americans in cities and suburbs across the
country may soon have close-to-home access to the aspect of city life that may
best define quality of life: a high-quality, green, and safe park for all to enjoy.