Street art in Mexico City, Mexico,
by artist Erica Il Cane.
Photo by Fifty24MX.
The 3-2 vote of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) February 26, in favor of new telecommunications rules has been hailed as a landmark ruling that will ensure “net neutrality,” defined as equal access to the Internet for all content providers. The reality is more complex and far less positive.
The FCC’s latest proposal does bar broadband service providers—giant companies like Comcast and the major telecoms that control so-called last-mile access to the Internet—from discriminating between different forms of content, either by offering price discounts or faster traffic speeds.
But the other major set of corporate giants, technology companies like Google, Yahoo and Netflix, will retain their monopoly control of over search and content provision. And the most dangerous enemy of a genuinely free Internet, the US government, with its vast panoply of spy agencies vacuuming up all web content, may gain additional authority over the Internet via the FCC itself.
By reclassifying broadband Internet services as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, the ruling puts Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under the same regulatory framework as telecommunications. Given the monopolization and price gouging that prevails in that industry, the hosannas over the FCC ruling by some advocates of net neutrality are both premature and exaggerated.
The exact language of the rules has not yet been made public, but from the statements issued by the FCC, the two main changes from an early decision in 2010—subsequently thrown out in a court challenge—were the reclassification under Title II, and the decision to apply the ruling to mobile as well as fixed-line broadband services.
Net neutrality is a set of principles designed to prevent restrictions by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments on content, sites, platforms or the kinds of equipment that may be used to access the Internet. Legitimate concern over the monopoly of broadband giants such as Comcast has generated broad support for net neutrality among online activists. The issue has prompted several online protests over recent years, including the so-called Internet slowdown of September 10 last year, when over 40,000 web sites solicited calls to senators and over 4.7 million comments to the FCC.
Following the February 25 vote, the site battleforthenet.com, which had played the major role in instigating the “slowdown,” proclaimed an “epic victory” stating, “Washington insiders said it couldn’t be done. But the public got loud in protest, the FCC gave in, and we won Title II net neutrality rules. Now Comcast is furious. They want to destroy our victory with their massive power in Congress. You won net neutrality. Now, are you ready to defend it?”
Such an analysis ignores the equally “massive power” of the tech industry both in Congress and in the Obama administration. A lengthy article published by the Washington Post March 1 describes Silicon Valley as “the new revolving door for Obama staffers.”
The article notes that the FCC decision “marked a major win for Silicon Valley, an industry that has built a close relationship with the president and his staff over the last six years.” The tech industry has “enriched Obama’s campaigns through donations” and “presented lucrative opportunities for staffers who leave for the private sector.”
The day of the FCC ruling, former White House press secretary Jay Carney joined Amazon as a senior vice president for global corporate affairs. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe now runs policy and strategy for car service start-up Uber. Facebook hired Marne Levine, chief of staff to former National Economic Council director Lawrence H. Summers. Airbnb has three former White House press staff on its books.
The revolving door goes both directions, with a large number of Silicon Valley executives heading to Washington for stints in the Obama administration. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes helped create Obama’s online campaign and Google’s former vice president of global policy, Andrew McLaughlin worked on its tech policy agenda, according to the Post. McLaughlin later joined the Obama administration as a deputy to the chief technology officer. Obama’s former deputy chief technology officer Nicole Wong was an executive at both Twitter and Google. Megan Smith, the current chief technology officer was previously at Google and the director of patent and trademark office Michelle K. Lee was an intellectual property lawyer for Google.
It is this relationship with the technology giants rather than any genuine concern for democratic rights on the Internet that explains Obama’s intervention in net neutrality dispute. In November last year Obama called on the FCC to take up the “strongest possible rules” to protect net neutrality.
Obama’s real attitude to Internet freedom was exposed by the revelations of Edward Snowden, who documented the mandate of the National Security Agency to “collect it all”—in other words, capture the entire content of all the world’s Internet activity in order to analyze and profile all potential opponents of the American government, above all, political opposition from the working class.
Both tech companies such as Google and Yahoo, as well as telecommunications giants like Comcast and AT&T are deeply implicated in the mass spying on the US and global population by the NSA. They routinely hand over data when asked and only expressed any concern once the extent of this was made known by Snowden.
“The reality being championed by Netanyahu and [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett will result in a bi-national state. I think that’s a catastrophe,” Dagan said.
“In the Palestinian arena, [Netanyahu’s] policy will lead … to apartheid,” he told Channel 2 Thursday, adding that such an outcome will “end the Zionist dream.”
The former spymaster, who spent eight years at the helm of Israel’s shadowy intelligence agency, will lead a Tel Aviv rally Saturday night to advocate a change of government.
He has been an outspoken critic of Netanyahu in the past, calling Netanyahu’s judgment on Iran into question.
In a snippet from Dagan’s reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on Tuesday — which he watched alongside a Channel 2 reporter — Dagan can be seen muttering at the screen “bullshit” after Netanyahu makes a point on Iran’s progress in its nuclear program.
The full interview was to be aired Friday night.
“For 45 years I have served this country — all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security as a Jewish and Zionist state. I don’t want that dream to disappear,” Dagan said.
In response, Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement accusing Dagan of deceiving the public and noted that the prime minister has worked tirelessly in his efforts to ensure Israel’s continued security.
“Meir Dagan is wrong and misleading,” the statement read.
Netanyahu does not “give in to international pressure” and will not hand over land to the Palestinians because areas submitted to them today will “come under the control of radical Islam and terror groups backed by Iran tomorrow.”
“The prime minister’s speech at Congress reverberated around the world and enunciated the dangers faced by Israel and the world as a result of a bad agreement. There is no doubt that [Netanyahu] challenged the major powers to address these dangers,” the press release stated.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report
Why is pizza so Republican?
What gives? In his New York Times column today, economist Paul Krugman tackles the question, and argues that pizza illustrates much about the current state of American politics.
Not surprisingly, pizza companies favor the Republicans because the GOP has crusaded against even modest government efforts to reform the food industry. As Krugman notes, the fight isn’t over whether Papa John’s should be allowed to stack even more pepperoni onto that pie; instead, Republicans have allied with the food industry to oppose encouraging companies to offer healthier options and to fight labeling requirements. (The GOP may be the party of the free market, but it’s not so keen on free and informed choice within it.)
Given that obesity and conditions like heart disease entail large social costs, there’s more at stake in these fights than an individual’s waistline. But don’t count on Republicans to be moved by such concerns; Krugman concludes reflexive ideology and an aversion to empiricism blind the party:
At one level, there is a clear correlation between lifestyles and partisan orientation: heavier states tend to vote Republican, and the G.O.P. lean is especially pronounced in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the “diabetes belt” of counties, mostly in the South, that suffer most from that particular health problem. Not coincidentally, officials from that region have led the pushback against efforts to make school lunches healthier.
At a still deeper level, health experts may say that we need to change how we eat, pointing to scientific evidence, but the Republican base doesn’t much like experts, science, or evidence. Debates about nutrition policy bring out a kind of venomous anger — much of it now directed at Michelle Obama, who has been championing school lunch reforms — that is all too familiar if you’ve been following the debate over climate change.
Pizza partisanship, then, sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. It is, instead, a case study in the toxic mix of big money, blind ideology, and popular prejudices that is making America ever less governable.
Luke Brinker is Salon’s deputy politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeBrinker.
Image: people signing the Guanyem manifesto (via Guerrilla Translation).
With all eyes on Syriza, Podemos and the Troika, the focus of attention among the left these days is the possibility to reclaim democracy at the state — and,inshallah, at the supranational — level. Yet at the same time, somewhat less visibly, there is a new cycle of struggles for democratic governance unfolding at the level of the city.
One such municipal movement and platform is Barcelona en Comú (Catalan for ‘Barcelona in Common’, formerly Guanyem Barcelona). Pioneering new ways and words for approaching the city as common(s), Barcelona en Comú opens possibilities for a politics rooted in everyday experiences, social relations and spaces of reproduction.
A story of intertwining horizons
In 2011, the 15M movement exploded the political horizon in Spain and inaugurated a cycle of struggles around spaces and institutions that have been growing and transforming ever since. This story consists of many episodes and sub-scenes and its ‘making of’ is far beyond a linear story. The mobilizations have produced some internationally visible effects, such as the occupation of squares or the recent success of Podemos, the radical left party that emerged in early 2014 and won five seats in the following European Parliamentary elections, now the strongest force in opinion polls. The two-party system that had Spain in its paralyzing grip since Franco is now done.
In the spring and summer of 2014, drawing from the social intellect and processes that fueled the post-15M struggles and experiments in radical democracy, a strategy to win municipal elections was being imagined in Catalonia: “Guanyem Barcelona.” By the summer, this civil society and social movement-shaped platform had launched is call to fight the corrupt austerity politics of the ruling Partido Popular (PP) and the local Catalan government.
The murmurs quickly became a steady roar, and within just over a month, Guanyem collected 30.000 signatures to support the project. Hundreds of people joined the platform and got involved in its working groups, envisioning a long and complex process. As the model proliferated across the peninsula, similar “Ganemos” structures soon emerged in Malaga, Madrid and other cities. Once the signatures confirmed that there was enough backing for a grassroots-shaped candidacy, representatives of the platform in Barcelona got to work and proceeded to register the new political party.
Yet here comes a small curious side-plot. The party register lies with the ministry of the interior. Handing in their paperwork, Guanyem were met with a surprise: an obscure Catalan city councilor had registered the name “Guanyem Barcelona” two days ahead of them. The man soon appeared with an offer: let me be in charge of coordinating all platforms in Spain and I will hand back the name. This was ludicrous not just because it is blackmail but also because the local Guanyem/Ganemos initiatives are autonomous.
There was also ample evidence for the illegitimacy of this registration — the man had given up a false address, Guanyem had papers from previous dealings with solicitors that mentioned their name — so the real Guanyem filed an appeal. While this kind of sabotage is not uncommon in the Spanish political landscape, the odds seemed to be against the desperate city councilor. Yet the interior ministry, run by the PP, sided with him and rejected Guanyem’s claim.
So Guanyem re-launched itself as “Barcelona en Comú” in February 2015, having now grown into a full-fledged municipal movement. Their confluence with a series of local left parties has been assured and the collectively drafted electoral program is currently open for evaluation and online feedback. Ready for a hot spring, Guanyem is now Barcelona en Comú, entering a new phase with new challenges.
Methodology and organization
There’s a lot to tell about the methodology of Barcelona en Comú, as its radical democratic approach comes with a host of tools, techniques, mechanisms and structures for enabling municipal politics from below. Amongst those are various levels of assemblies (neighborhoods, thematic areas, coordination, logistics, media, communication, etc.) and online platforms (for communicating, voting, working). The initiative’s organigram looks more like a washing machine or a particle accelerator than a flat or vertical hierarchy.
That’s quite appropriate, because politics and organization are spun around on a daily basis here, reconsidered and reconfigured in an intense experiment in collective thinking and acting. All of that happens without prescriptions, instructions, funding or lobbies but with lots of heads, hands and feet at work: not your typical ‘smart’ and regulated participatory process.
Starting without a recipe, however, does not mean that the initiative is not inventing its own terms, conditions and practices. The most inspiring example of such innovation is the Guanyem code for Political Ethics, which was discussed, annotated and ratified at an open working weekend in October 2014 — with some 300 people present and many more following and commenting online. This ethics code outlines the platform’s basic compromises as concerning representation, auditing, accountability, financing, transparency, professionalization and corruption, and applies to anyone working within it.
At the level of policy proposals, thematic working groups (health, migration, culture, tourism, work, economy, urbanism, gender, local governance, education, information) have taken on the task of formulating position papers that feature minimum criteria and proposals for each area. These will be negotiated with the other parties (ICV, EuIA, Podem Barcelona, Procés Constituent und Equo) that joined Barcelona En Comú in a common candidature.
Barcelona En Comú is also an experiment in creating, accessing and valorizing common infrastructures and resources. It has very few material resources at its disposal, but it manages to create new forms of access to existing resources, opening doors to council infrastructures with new legitimacy and collective claims, as well as valorizing grassroots and self-run social and political infrastructures. This gives the ‘common’ in its name a very concrete significance.
A laboratory of social intelligence
Since its inception, Guanyem Barcelona has grasped the role of neighborhoods as protagonists of change. It is clear that Guanyem learned much from movements such as the PAH — the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages, Spain’s strong and popular housing movement which also emerged from Barcelona — that have built their strength through processes of networked proliferation of local groups, each of which is singular in its political leaning, social-affective texture and style. Neighborhood groups are a crucial space for developing analyses and mobilizing the collective strength to enable feedback and contagion effects between local processes and the platform’s thematic groups as well as its coordination committees.
In the winter of 2014-’15, each of the neighborhood groups worked on a diagnostic document concerning their area. These were drawn up in open meetings and analyze problems and propose measures at the local level. In the document from my neighborhood, Poble Sec, the domains addressed were urbanism; health; economy; work, precarity, inequality and poverty; information society; governance and participation; culture; migration; housing; tourism; and education.
Proposals range from the re-appropriation of public space to the opening of health centers and services for old people, to supporting small local businesses and forms of solidarity economy, creating an adult education center and more free WiFi spots, encouraging participatory planning and translation, supporting self-run cultural and social spaces, generating more council housing and changing the areas’ planning permissions, and so on.
These local assemblies are spaces of encounter between people from divergent walks of life, bringing together different levels of expertise and experience — local and technical knowledge being worth the same. They constitute an immense gathering and reshaping of knowledge driven notably by an ever more downwardly mobile middle class. This is both a strength (there is huge potential in the mobilization of these knowledges and social fabrics) and a risk (it will be a challenge to maintain a plurality of subject positions and escape the “tyrannies” of the middle class).
Interplays of proximity and difference
The current political-institutional crisis forces us to re-imagine the political and social as spaces of collective action. The city is a space of experience and acting we know and participate in daily, not only symbolizing but also embodying our social common. While it’s the key layer between the square and the parliament, between the 15M and Podemos, its importance is not just a matter of scale: politics in the city has a potential to propose radical new methodologies for thinking proximity and difference in organizing. It has the power to explode binaries and contradictions between the street and the state, the micro and the macro, and even the local and the global.
With the focus on the municipal, to take back institutions (social rights, infrastructures, democratic mechanisms), spaces (vital, social and representational) and autonomy (over social wealth, territories, the everyday) becomes something very tangible and concrete. What would we like our school, our square, our homeless shelter to be like — not any homeless shelter, but the one here, in our street? There is immense power in proximity and situated knowledges in the city, making the question of self-determination concrete without necessarily passing through issues of identity, be it national or subcultural.
Self-referential claims to territory are hard to sustain in the face of the heterogeneity of interests, needs and lifestyles that shape the post-industrial city. At its best, the city is a multi-layered and agonistic convivial space that can do without sovereignty or identity, the strength of its local processes being that they build commons without losing sight of others and elsewheres.
The city’s social and historical DNA
What does it mean to think the city as a process driven by difference, and to trust that it can be collectively reclaimed? The city has much to do with the history of democracy, going back to the ancient Greek polis, but also with the history of colonialism as enabling large centers of states, and with the development of capitalism in the growth of the modern city. The city has long served as a technology for making difference productive, from the crudest to the most subtlest of ways: how to think the city — and democracy — beyond patriarchal, colonial and capitalist genealogies?
Three social and historical processes are key in this regard: displacement and eviction from the land, the history of colonialism and slavery, and the subjugation of women. Beyond intersectionalist box-ticking, these are inevitable starting point for imagining a radically different city — an experiment that tries to get closer to the root of the problem with democracy and the city.
The first of these points concerns the hegemonic claims that cities have held over the rural: the contradiction between city and countryside is no less strong than the one between labor and capital. Here we enter the problem and perspective of ecology, but also that of class: with industrialization, cities have become spaces of relation and life whose capacity of equality and sustainability have been ever decreasing. The need to re-imagine the ecology of the city goes far beyond smart-city models and urban gardens. In Barcelona, there is a multitude of cooperatives and initiatives concerned with sustainable design, agriculture, recycling, squatting land, alternative trade networks — they can be a starting point for addressing this level.
Secondly, we must face the question of citizenship in relation to the city anew, attempting to redefine social rights in relation to social reproduction and the post-industrial city. Other models of rights and responsibilities, departing from shared vital spaces and commons, are key here (such as the Latin American buen vivir, taking up affirmations that nature and community too are subjects of rights). Even if at present questions of rights and citizenship are the state’s business, it’s not too early to initiate a re-thinking of the political subject starting from the webs of relation, interdependency and difference of our cities.
This brings us to the third interrelated point: grasping the city as a space of social reproduction and the role of care and commons therein, and rethinking the subject of politics. On the one hand, it also means rethinking the urban subject more generally, thinking access to rights beyond andocentric and anthropocentric models that privilege wage-labor and individual, independent human subjects.
Towards an intersectionality of struggles
Even if precarity and unemployment have steadily eroded the supposed normality of stable wage labor, we are still far from valorizing the reproductive labors and commons that sustain the city. In this regard, ‘Cuidadania‘ is a neologism that Spanish feminist movements have put into circulation to re-frame citizenship (‘ciudadania’) as a matter of care (‘cuidado’). The city is a battlefield par excellence for this. On the other hand, it obviously concerns the need to break with politics as a club of privileged subjects — not just a matter of quotas but of transforming political culture more generally.
Addressing these overlapping levels requires not just debate and good policies but also a careful labor of mobilization and composition in order to produce what, with Angela Davies, we might call an intersectionality not of identities, but of struggles. The municipalist movements face this challenge both with respect to their own composition — who is speaking for whom, can this be more than a rebellion of disenchanted white middle classes? — as well as to which issues will be prioritized.
Here it needs to be clear that politics is not a moral playing field and that strategic decisions do not always look as pure as some would wish. However, priorities must not be betrayed in the long run: En Comú will certainly face situations similar to those presently faced by Syriza. Its success will be down to the strength of its transversal composition, its ethical frameworks and the movements.
What is exciting about Barcelona en Comú is that it understands not just how to think strategically but also in terms of process and relations. For the transformations necessary for producing radical change — change that works on the root of problems — need to be relational. As David Harvey puts it:
The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.
That is why the right methodology for working in and on the city is one based in process and ethics, starting from difference and productive heterogeneity, able to do without unitary identity, moralism and monocultures of knowledge. Barcelona en Comú sets out some key coordinates for this work while at the same time building transversal connections. It has, irrevocably and regardless of eventual electoral results, opened up yet another swath of horizon.
Manuela Zechner is a researcher, cultural worker and translator.
Hillary Mann Leverett, co-author of “Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran,” served at the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush. She is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy. The views expressed are her own.
(CNN)In September 2002, then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a U.S. congressional committee “there is absolutely no question whatsoever” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was developing nuclear weapons at “portable manufacturing sites of mass death.” Once Hussein had nuclear weapons, Netanyahu warned, “the terror network will have nuclear weapons,” placing “the security of the entire world at risk.”
Fast forward to this week, and Netanyahu was back, this time as prime minister, to make virtually identical claims about Iran. Yet not only has the U.S. intelligence community disagreed with Netanyahu’s assessment of Iranian nuclear intentions, so does Israel’s, according to leaked documents. Indeed, more than 200 retired security officers have publicly criticized Netanyahu as a danger to Israel’s security. Sadly, Netanyahu’s presentation reinforces caricatures regularly advanced by American and Gulf Arab pundits — caricatures of Iran as aspiring Middle Eastern hegemon, bent on overthrowing an otherwise stable regional order. It’s a misguided perspective that is actually hurting the United States.
In Netanyahu’s view, America should only improve relations with an Iran that stops its regional “aggression,” its support for “terrorism,” and its “threat[s] to annihilate … Israel.” In other words, America should not improve relations with an Iran whose regional influence is rising.
In reality, Iran’s rise is not only normal, it is actually essential to a more stable region. As nuclear talks with Tehran enter a decisive phase, rapprochement with a genuinely independent Iran — not a nominally independent Iran whose strategic orientation is subordinated to U.S. preferences — is vital to halting the decline of America’s strategic position.
Washington has long worked to consolidate a highly militarized, pro-American Middle Eastern order. Yet these efforts — pursued across Democratic and Republican administrations and intensified after 9/11 — have clearly failed. As a result, the Middle East today is less stable, more riven with sectarian and ethnic conflict, and more violent than at any point in its modern history. And America, in a textbook illustration of “imperial overstretch,” has made itself weaker, both regionally and globally.
America’s quest for Middle Eastern hegemony has failed for many reasons.
For a start, seeking dominance impels Washington to replicate, in multiple venues, its Faustian bargain with imperial Iran from 1953 until the last shah’s overthrow in 1979, providing substantial and effectively open-ended support to governments acting against the desires of their own publics. While American elites argue that America benefits from such arrangements, they are ultimately unsustainable, as Iran’s 1979 revolution demonstrated.
A determination to dominate the Middle East keeps locking Washington into these kinds of relationships; for its own sake, the United States needs to stop trying to be the Middle East’s hegemon. That means embracing a regional balance of power — not the chimera of American dominance misleadingly labeled as “balance,” but an actual balance in which major regional states, acting in their own interests, constrain one another.
Under any political system, Iran would be a significant regional actor, due to its geostrategic location, hydrocarbon resources, and large, educated population. But the Islamic Republic — which Iranians built themselves as a participatory Islamist system representing their interests, not those of rulers beholden to foreign powers — has a legitimacy America must accept to foster a truly stable Middle East.
Iran has gained influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen by backing political structures that, in Tehran’s judgment, will produce governments committed to foreign policy independence. Washington needs cooperation with just such an Iran against common foes like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and to balance counterproductive policies of America’s regional allies.
Washington’s self-damaging drive for Middle Eastern hegemony is inextricably linked to its unconditional support for an increasingly extreme and unrepresentative Israel.
A myth prevails that America’s bond with Israel flows from “shared democratic values” and response to the Holocaust. In fact, Washington only started providing Israel with significant military assistance and diplomatic impunity after the 1967 War, when Israel seized pivotal territory from Egypt and Syria, two Soviet allies opposed to American regional dominance. For the remainder of and after the Cold War, U.S. officials calculated that ensuring Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors helped America pursue hegemony over the Middle East, even as occupying millions more Palestinians clearly made Israel less democratic. (The U.S. government’s own demographic data show that the number of Arabs under Israeli control — in “Green Line” Israel, Gaza, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank — exceeds that of Israeli Jews, making the Israeli state a minority regime for the people it governs).
A state representing all these people would not occupy Arab populations or seek ever greater freedom of military initiative in its neighborhood. Israel’s pursuit of these policies — facilitated by U.S. guarantees of its “qualitative military edge” — conditions Washington’s commitment to keeping over 100 million Arabs under U.S.-backed autocracies and puts America on a war footing with an Iran unwilling to join this inherently unstable regional order.
The reality is that Israel’s concern about Iranian nuclearization is not that Tehran will use (at the moment nonexistent) nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed Israel. Instead, as then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained in 2012, it is that a nuclear Iran would “restrict our range of operations.”
But this is precisely what a truly stable balance of power requires. America needs constructive relations with all major regional states, including Iran, so that they constrain one another’s reckless impulses.