F-Word: Zombie Malls and Zombie Economics

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“Creative destruction at its best,” that’s what Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi called the multi-billion dollar crisis that’s hitting US retail.

At issue is the crash and burn of US shopping malls. After a two decades of boom, malls are closing all over the country. As the New York Times reported in May, as many retail workers have been laid off since October, as work in the entire American coal industry, almost 89,000.

“While painful for those in the middle of it, this is how we grow and wealth is created,” the man from Moody’s told The Times.

That’s the standard economists’ and stock brokers’ line. Markets work magic, trends come and go, people miraculously wise up, adapt, and “the economy” comes out ahead in the end. That’s the way economists report the news.

But let’s take a closer look. The US has many more malls per head of population, than any other place on earth. Each of us has, 23.5 square feet of retail space, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia — our next closest competitors in the malls-per-person race.

With malls come paved earth, in the US over a million square miles of it, usually coated in black or gray concrete, heating, drying, and secreting waste into the soil and water beneath.

Shut an anchor store in a mall, as Sears and Macy’s and JC Penney’s have in the hundreds, and typically the whole mall empties, leaving masses of people out of work, mostly with skills like stocking and clerking that are rapidly getting automated, and whole swaths of the landscape sweating under impervious macadam. The paving leads to water run-off, more frequent flooding, increased acidity etc

Is change like this painful for those in the middle of it? You bet it is. But those human and environmental costs don’t have to be just the way things are, as per the economists’ brush-off.

Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is political: 89,000 miners have built enough power to make their layoffs costly, not just to them, but to society. Retail workers on the other hand, are disproportionately female, of color, immigrant and older or young. They haven't built the same power as miners yet.

Do we actually, in this country, leave change to the market, by getting government out of it? No. We don’t leave business owners to bear the cost of dislocation, retraining and pollution. We the people cover those, so-called “externality costs”, just as our taxes usually pay for the roads, electrification, and sewerage that made it possible to build the mall in the first place. We’ve decided those costs, just like the clean up won’t be born by private corporation, but the public corpus.

So do things have to be this way? You tell me. The rest of the world’s not facing this same mass of defunct, zombie malls, because, frankly, they and their governments made different decisions. Zombie malls are our problem. And Zombie economics.

 

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New Economy Models: A Victory for the Commons

Laura Flanders: A new world based on community and collaboration is closer than you think. We can steward resources together. In fact, millions of people are doing just that and not in the history books. This week, David Bollier, activist, co-founder of The Commons Strategy Group, explains what it means to think like a commoner. And two activists engaged in Commons projects right now, talk about two very distinct, but complementary strategies. One digital in Barcelona, the other rural in Mozambique. It's all coming up on the Laura Flanders show, the place where the people who say it can't be done take a back seat to the ones who are doing it.

Laura Flanders: So David, thanks for joining us. It's great to have you with us.

David Bollier: Great to be here.

Laura Flanders: The first time I said the "commons," that I was going to be talking to you about The Commons ... a friend of mine said, "Isn't that old, ancient history?" You've heard that before.

David Bollier: I've heard it all the time. People think it's either associated with a strip mall, the such and such commons, or English history. In fact, it's a very contemporary phenomena, and I would even go further, it's part of human history. We've always been cooperators. It's what we're hardwired to do. The whole idea of homo-economic is that we're utility maximizing, selfish, materialistic creatures, is an aberration in history. What's happening is I think we're rediscovering a lot of these roots of humanity, partly through the Internet, which has encouraged and facilitated sharing and collaboration and shown how artificial property rights are. So it's opening up a new exploration of both the economy as well as our inner lives.

Laura Flanders: What about the tragedy of The Commons? If you went through an economic school any time in the last 40 years, you would've heard about the tragedy of The Commons.

David Bollier: This is kind of both a fable and a smear of collective action by a famous biologist of the late 60s, Garrett Hardin, who wrote an essay by that title, "The Tragedy of the Commons." And he said, "Imagine you have a pasture where you can put any number of cattle or sheep on, it will result in the overgrazing and ruination of The Commons, and it will be a tragedy." Really, what he was describing was more akin to the tragedy of the market, where there's no community, no rules, no punishment for violators. A commons is a managed system, where social community gets together and says, "We're gonna manage this resource sustainably for the future," and in fact, empirically, that happens all around the world throughout history.

Laura Flanders: We've had Peter Linebaugh on the show, the historian of The Commons, and he talks about common-ing as a verb. In fact, he says you can't have commons without common-ing, that it's an active engagement of people.

David Bollier: This is one reason economists like to ignore, because how do you put activities and practices into a spreadsheet? They like precise quantitative mathematical models and predictions. They don't like to acknowledge that the economy is socially embedded, that we actually have a role in co-creating the economy. And The Commons is about giving a vehicle and mechanisms and governance for managing our own economy. Not to meet maximum profit or financial speculation, but to meet every day needs. And that, too, is somewhat seen as beneath the grand aspirations of economics.

Laura Flanders: You talk about self-provision-ing. How is that different from subsistence? Or is it?

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Learning from the South: What Does Solidarity Look Like?

So how do you like it? Lots of Americans awoke from the last election to get their first taste of non-representative government. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, remember. The electoral college unfairly privileges some states over others, we've been reminded. Worse, in government now are people who oppose government. And they're set on reversing regulations and rolling back the social functions of the state, to the detriment of the poor and the benefit of the powerful. Especially corporations. It's all propped up by brutality and a fervent populism.

None of any of this comes as a surprise to people in the US South. Southern progressives, LGBTQ people, and people of color in the South, especially have been living this reality for decades. Our guest today has some insight into what southern resilience and action can look like in the age of Trump, and what the rest of us have to learn from the South. Cazembe Murphy Jackson works with Black Lives Matter, Atlanta; and as the national organizer for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which for more than 30 years has been working across movements to end systemic oppression.

Laura Flanders:Cazembe, welcome to the program. Glad to have you.

Cazembe Jackson:Thank you, thank you.

Laura Flanders:So is that fair to say that you in the South woke up and sort of "Same old, same old"?

Cazembe Jackson:I think that's partly true. I think when we woke up and we realized that Trump was in office, part of it was like "Okay, this is something that we've been dealing with." We call it the New Confederacy. We've been dealing with this kind of action for a while. But also there was a sense of urgency and responsibility that we were going to actually be called into action to lead other folks who are not in the South about how to deal with the same kind of administration.

Laura Flanders:So when you talk about you've been dealing with some of these phenomenon over the years, what do you mean? How do you describe it?

Cazembe Jackson:I think on a state level in particular, we are used to really repressive kind of legislation. In particular in Tennessee and in Georgia, Mississippi, we have super majority Republican legislatures that typically pass laws that are aggressive against queer and trans people, bathroom bills, that kind of stuff. In Tennessee there were bills of things where they didn't even want students to be able to say the word "gay" in school. But also against living wages, most states are right-to-work states so we can't really form unions and stuff-

Laura Flanders:Medicaid expansion.

Cazembe Jackson:Exactly. All of these kinds of things on a state level, and so we knew it would be a little different going to a federal kind of level, but I don't know that any of us were actually prepared for the extent of things that's happening right now.

Laura Flanders:So how much patience do you have with northerners going "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Panic, panic"?

Cazembe Jackson:You know? I think there is a level of patience, because at the end of the day in order for us to actually be successful in the resistance we have got to kind of be open to folks who have different levels of experience with this kind of repression. So I think I'm learning to be more patient because-

Laura Flanders:Well that's very kind of you. I think about it as a media problem, in the sense that our media has so refused to cover the South that during the period of the Obama Administration, the 2008 election, you would have though everything in the whole country had gone Democratic. Not so.

Cazembe Jackson:Yeah, definitely not. Yeah, I agree with that.

Laura Flanders:So being southern kind of gives you an edge? Being a southern progressive kind of gives you an edge? Being a queer, trans, LGBT activist of color gives you an edge looking into all of this? How so? And tell us a little bit about your life.

 

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What I Learned From My Mother - Laura Flanders

Dear friends and supporters,

I have been working in independent media for the almost thirty years. This would hardly have been possible without the people who have inspired me, or without the support of viewers like you. 

Like you, perhaps, the coming Mother’s Day holiday has me thinking about my mother.

Some of you who have read my work or watched The Laura Flanders Show have connected me to the men in my family: radical journalist Claud Cockburn (my grandfather), or even my father Michael Flanders (of the performing duo Flanders and Swann.) What you may not know is that I trace my most invaluable skills, the ones I’ve come to lean on time and time again, to the female side of my family.

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Former Women's Prison becomes a Feminist Community Space

Community, creation, collaboration. On the Laura Flanders Show we talk with Pamela Shifman and Iris Bowen about remaking a former women's prison in New York into a space for women's liberation and activism, and we hear from photographer and author Yoav Litvin who specializes in the art of collaboration

Laura Flanders:People, power and place-making. There is not an organizer we interview on this program who doesn't talk about the crisis of real estate. Groups need places to work and meet and come together, especially in an era like ours of isolation and virtual connections. But what does community building look like in a time of privatization and shrinking common space? What models exist for viable self-sustainable community property places? My guests today are giving all of this a lot of thought.

They're two of the people behind the women's building project in New York City. It is re-making and re-imagining a former women's prison and turning it into a new women's community for transformation and justice and impact. The project so far has involved a collective and complex process. Here to talk about that and what has been learned is Pamela Shifman, Executive Director of the Novo foundation and Iris Bowen, program coordinator for the Coming Home program at the Mount Sinai St. Luke's Institute for advanced medicine.

Welcome both. We should say at the start that the Novo foundation and Pamela are big supporters of this program so you're not going to get brutal, attacking, questions and I'll just be upfront about that. This process though, I thought was important enough that we should bring it to our audience 'cause it's complicated; Creating space, creating space in space that is so loaded in a time that's so fraught; Why a building, of all your possible priorities, Pamela?

Pamela Shifman:Well a women's building has been wanted, desired, worked for, hoped for in New York City for decades. Since I joined Novo 10 years ago I asked activists from all over the world what they most needed to be most impactful in their work, advocating for girls and women's rights, and what I kept hearing over and over again was the importance of space, the importance of being able to connect with peer organizations, to learn from each other, to organize together. So, when we had the opportunity to support the development of a building to do just that and it was a former women's prison, to be able to turn a place of pain and confinement into a place of justice and healing and liberation and possibility, we knew we absolutely had to make that happen.

Laura Flanders:Has New York ever had a women's building?

Pamela Shifman:There have been attempts to have a women's building. In the early 1970s, a group of women occupied a space in the East Village to create a women's building. So there have been starts and stops. There's a really fantastic women's building in San Francisco and the executive director of that building is very actively involved in the women's building in New York City. We're building a huge community of women who are helping Make this possible.

Laura Flanders:So Iris, tell us a little bit about this building. It's on West 20th Street, which now is Chelsea, right over on the West Side Highway. If you've ever been in a traffic jam right there you might've passed it. What's been its history? What is that building to you?

Iris bowen:Well, it was home for me for at least four years. So, when you say, "Chelsea," I used to look out the window and say, "Boy, I wish I was out there." But it was home for me, up and down the stairs for four years, so now that it's turning into something more meaningful and more powerful, I'm very excited.

Laura Flanders:Now, the building was having problems before the decision to close it and am I right in thinking the decision to close it that was made by the state was because of Hurricane Sandy, was that it?

Iris bowen:Yes, that it correct. When Hurricane Sandy came, the water flooded the building and they decided to close it. They shipped the women out to another facility and they then closed it.

Laura Flanders:So what complications present themselves as you think of taking over this building?

Pamela Shifman:One thing that's really important in taking over the building is making sure that we maintain the history of what happened in that place, and that we use this as an opportunity to educate people about the ongoing incarceration of women, and the fact that this is absolutely a nightmare for women in this country and that we are locking up the most marginalized women in our country, at rates that are the fastest growing prison population in this country are of women. So, we need to make sure that we maintain the history and also create a space that imagine something new, and that is actually going to be a building that serves the movements for social justice now and 99 years from now.

So we really need to put a lot of thought into this and a lot of creativity, and so we have been building a huge community of people, Iris has been on advisory circle for the women's building along with many other incarcerated women, formerly incarcerated women who are activists. As well as activists from across the world who are working to advance justice for girls and women everywhere, and really thinking about how we can create a space that's flexible and that is going to really allow us to do the best work possible.

Laura Flanders:I mean it's a; Well you tell me. When I heard that the prison was being closed, I was both happy and also conscious that this is a big hit for the families that need to visit their incarcerated members.

Iris bowen:Yes, absolutely.

Laura Flanders:What happens to them?

Iris bowen:So they have to travel perhaps on the Metro-North or take a bus. So it's a longer commute to get to see the family and probably the desire was to get to Bayview to be closer to your family. So they were shipped out to different places, and so a little hardship on the family to get to a visit. 

 

 

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May Day Special Report: 100+ Movements Go Beyond the Moment

May Day. In much of the world it's a worker's holiday celebrating the achievement of the organized labor movement like the eight hour workday and the weekend. It's been a day of labor protest going back over 200 years, but also a day of defiance going back even further and celebration of spring, rebirth, community, and defense of the commons. On today's program, we celebrate the resilience of activists and their demands which haven't changed all that much over the centuries, and we feature some of the actors behind this year's May Day from Beyond the Moment, across movement coalition, and others.

Agunda Okeyo:After the election, I was looking for something utilitarian that people could actually get engaged with that was connected to what I thought was more of a long term perspective of the issues we're going to be facing. Boycotts traditionally have always been a great way to affect high halls of power where we're looking at the BDS approach with Palestine or you're looking at the boycott of apartheid South Africa, or you're looking at the Montgomery bus boycott. For me, it was a kind of vehicle for social justice that was obvious to tap into the for the work that I felt has to be long term.

At the moment with Hater Free NYC, essentially what we're doing is we have a boycott campaign that we have on the website where we're going off of a model where we have a hater of the month specifically targeting business interests connected to the Trump Administration, including his cabinet.

Thais Marques:Cosecha is a non-violent movement that is fighting for the permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all immigrants. Cosecha launched in February of 2016, so we're only about a year old. We want to create a seven day strike where immigrants don't go to work, they don't go to school, and they don't buy. We recognize that our power lies in our labor and consumer.

Our first principle first and foremost is that we want to be grounded in the pain of the immigrant community, so recognizing that what we're calling for, a strike, especially a seven day strike, is a huge risk. Right now, we have 24 volunteer organizers, and we have visited about 40 cities. We realize that to really make May 1st real, we have to be there for our community as much as possible, support them. We've really been supporting cities that we've been visiting in doing outreach in their own community, and especially to do actions where it's either something small like a banner drop where five people choose a highway and they just drop a banner to salsa shutdowns where there's like 50 people just dancing in the middle of a grocery store.

L. Yeampierre:UPROSE was founded in 1966. It was founded by Puerto Rican activists who were moving into Sunset from Red Hook to meet the unmet needs of the Puerto Rican community. I've been here since 1996, and it was in 1996 that the organization became a social justice organization that started also working on environmental justice issues.

UPROSE is a member of the Climate Justice Alliance, and our cohort is called the "Our Power Campaign." It's basically made up of frontline communities that are at the frontline of the crisis but are also moving for what we call "just transitions." Just transitions is an economic framework that basically moves you away from fossil fuel extraction into regenerative energy. We're engaged in operationalizing just transitions, which means anything from trying to get these three community-owned solar projects on the ground to trying to make sure that we can have an industrial hub that builds for offshore wind.

Sunset Park has the largest significant maritime industrial area in New York City. In the industrial sector, we've got blue collar manufacturing industrial jobs, and so it is the largest walk to work community in New York City. It has in some ways helped us retain the working class character of the neighborhood because people work here, they live here, they're able to support and raise a family here because of those blue collar jobs.

What we saw happen in the last three years was that Jamestown came into Sunset Park with this view of taking the industrial sector and turning it into the next Chelsea, the next Williamsburg. We immediately started reaching out to them and trying to figure out how we can get them to agree to start building for climate adaptation, for resilience, for renewable energy, for the kinds of what we think are new, industrial jobs that not only address the needs of the community and stimulate the economy locally but also address the climate adaptation needs of the region.

M. Castaneda:Sanctuary I think is it's an interesting concept and it's quite open concept. It's up to us to figure out to put in the policies that make Sanctuary meaningful. It also comes from this long tradition of spaces, houses of worship particularly, being the last place of refuge and the strongest place of refuge for people who are persecuted and people who are vulnerable.

Some of our main projects that are ongoing are the Accompaniment Project. We pair you up with somebody who's going to be going in to 26 Federal Plaza, which is where the immigration courts are, for some kind of hearing or to do a check in. If you have an order of deportation and you have to go present yourself and then this officer will determine whether to tell you, "Okay, come back in a month, come back in five months," or, "I'm taking you away." That serves some practical purposes like helping make sure that all the forms that we need to have are there, helping make sure if there's any irregularities that we are keeping track or anything like that.

Then it also serves another kind of function that's more difficult to describe, and that is I think what happens  when somebody who is used to going through a humiliating machinery of the state system alone has people by their side. On the flip side of that, what happens when someone who's more privileged, who's a citizen, who's used to interacting with the state at a certain level of a certain expectation of a certain level of respect, timeliness, transparency, what happens when they, by walking with an undocumented person, feel firsthand the way that that person is being treated?



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After the Protest - L.A. Kauffman and Jesse Myerson Excerpt

No nukes, Act Up, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock. What lessons from the history of Direct Action are relevant to the times of Trump? And what do we know about the role of protest in shifting power, or moving policy? Can street heat translate into organized movement over time? It certainly happened on the Right. The first months of the Trump Administration have seen major opposition mobilizations that continue, but after all the disruption, what comes next? We're joined by two guests today who are grappling with this very question. L.A. Kauffmann is a journalist, long time activist and author of the brilliantly timed, recently released book " Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism". Jesse Myerson is an organizer and writer, currently working with the New York Nurses Association. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, The Nation and right here. 

 

L.A. Kauffmann:Pleasure to be here!

Laura Flanders:So let's start with the ingeniously brilliantly timed release of your book, " Direct Action", what does the term actually mean for people that don't know?

L.A. Kauffmann:Well, I define it very broadly. Like any term like this, it's debated extensively within movements and there are some people who want a very narrow definition where it's just stopping an injustice in its tracks, like using your body to block a bulldozer, but I define it as any of the pressure tactics that are outside the established channels of political participation and influence. So everything ranging from fairly mild tactics like rallies, to stronger things like sit-ins and blockades.

Laura Flanders:Now, your book catalogs dozens, decades of direct actions. I was part of a shockingly large number of them. But is this the exclusive purview of the Left?

L.A. Kauffmann:It's not. There are certainly examples of direct action movements on the Right. The most notorious would probably be Operation Rescue, which used direct action blockades to prevent women from accessing reproductive health services. But it's been a lot rarer, I think part of that is because there's a small d, democratic ethos that's kinda baked into the way that people do direct action and that's almost a prerequisite for people to take the level of personal risk that entails. You occasionally see movements that use these tactics on the Right, but it doesn't work very well in top-down organizing context which is more characteristic of Right.

Laura Flanders:You draw a line between the kind of extra, sort of democratic process actions of progressive organizations like the ones you catalog, like the Klan or militia movements of the Right.

L.A. Kauffmann:Yes. I mean, I think those, those movements have by-and-large been operating in kind of a cell fashion, and have not been looking to mobilize extensive grassroots support or have been failing spectacularly when they do.

Laura Flanders:Alright, so now we've got our terms clear, I'd love the both of you to weigh in a little bit on what you see as the relationship between this kind of direct action that you're talking about, and the kind of movement building that you've more often report on. Jesse, I mean you're a direct action fan, but you really write about movement organizing more than just mobilizing people into the streets, and I shouldn't use that word "just", we'll get to that.

Jesse Myerson:I think they're vital for reinforcing one another, that through direct action strikes, rallies, these sorts of things open political space and claim new political terrain, open up new ideas for consideration. But that in order to consecrate them and in order to advance them in a political sense, we need a sort of ongoing organizing effort that get people not just mobilized, but also ideologically coherent and ready to take action at a moments notice, and in relationship with one another. And with these two things balancing one another, each can increase the other and eventually lead to the realization of an actual program.

Laura Flanders:And so what do you see happening Right now in this sort of arena, L.A.?

L.A. Kauffmann:Well, I mean, there's obviously been an extraordinary flourishing of street protests since the day of the inauguration. What we've seen I think, has been the flourishing of a movement of movements, that we're not seeing a single organization, or a single issue in the forefront. Instead, what we're seeing is this vast, decentralized landscape of lots and lots of people and organizations in motion. It's pretty early now to say what organizational containers are going to be the most effective in channeling that energy going forward, but there are groups small and large, both popping up all over and existing groups that are dramatically increasing their numbers.

 

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Nuclear Provocation Update: It's not just North Korea who can get in on this act

It was an American nuclear weapon test that caused a cloud over Nevada this March and it didn’t take a satellite to see the dust rising.

The March 14th test was the first in a new series. US weapons makers are making a new nuclear bomb —  a replacement for four bombs already in our nuclear arsenal.


The B61-12 is estimated to be ready for use in 2020.

The first in a three year series of tests began this march at Sandia National Labs, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

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Excerpt: Restore, Renew and Reparations w Adaku Utah and J Bob Alotta

This week, Adaku Utah and J Bob Alotta speak to the urgency of centering healing in a world that doesn't care about our survival. They discuss the intellectual distance many activists feel from the prospect of healing, and challenge the racist and classist logic at play in mainstream determinations of what bodies are worthy of care. Together, they make a powerful case that care is a central component of broader liberation struggles.

Laura Flanders:All right, let's talk about healing. I have to say, when this was first proposed to me that we discuss healing, I was like, healing? That's a classic kind of white, leftist, even queer response that healing is some kind of individual solution. Isn't it?

Adaku Utah: So, it is an individual solution, and it's also collective. We know that our movements, moving towards justice does not only rely on one person, or couple of people, that it actually requires all of us. And our systems come from a long legacy of violence that has impacts on our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. From what we're seeing in gentrification, to the education system, to the high and increasing rates of depression and suicidality within our communities.

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Join Our #NO54BILLIONFORWAR Campaign

Our environmental and human needs are desperate and urgent. We need to transform our economy, our politics, our policies and our priorities to reflect that reality. That means reversing the flow of our tax dollars, away from war and militarism, and towards funding human and environmental needs, and demanding support for that reversal from all our political leaders at the local, state and national levels.

We and the movements we are part of face multiple crises. Military and climate wars are destroying lives and environments, threatening the planet and creating enormous flows of desperate refugees. Violent racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and other hatreds are rising, encouraged by the most powerful voices in Washington DC.

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