Abbie Hofmann had written a book in the 1960s humorously-titled “Steal This Book.” The author of this Resolution to be introduced in Counties, League of Municipalities members, Towns Association members and even Wisc. Association of School Board members, urges you to totally plagiarize (claim authorship) of it and introduce it to the local governmental body of which you’re an elected member. This might have some odds at least of becoming part of State Statutes again if the largest number of the widest assortment of governments from the widest geographic dispersal will pass the resolution (or similar ones).
Regionalizing mass transit will be only the first, minor, step towards sustainability for Wisconsin. Without this step, odds of achieving sustainability in time to avert rather dire consequences, are small.
Resolution: Demand on the WI Legislature to Re-enable Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs)
To be Submitted to all levels of local governments throughout Wisconsin during 2019.
WHEREAS, In 2009 the Wisconsin Legislature passed legislation included in Act 28, enabling the formation of Regional Transit Authorities, complete with the power of taxation necessary to fund their start-up and operations;
WHEREAS, In 2011, as part of Act 32, the Wisconsin Legislature passed legislation disabling the same Regional Transit Authorities, with no rational explanation or narrative for undoing what had been done two years earlier;
WHEREAS, the Wisconsin Association of Mobility Managers (WAMM) said, introducing their 2016 Legislative Priorities, “Wisconsin is the only Midwest state without enabling legislation to create these authorities. Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) are a quasi-governmental entity that provides a governance structure for a unified transportation system and has taxing authority, therefor offering a funding alternative to property taxes;”
WHEREAS, WAMM added, “Regional Transit Authorities allow for a regional and comprehensive look at transportation. They encourage connectivity and multimodal approaches since the planning takes place with one body for the whole region. A multimodal and coordinated system improves the mobility, connectedness, and quality of life for those who are unable to drive themselves, particularly older adults, individuals with disabilities and those with low incomes;
WHEREAS, WAMM further noted that “Medical centers, employers, job centers, educational facilities are very often regional in nature; why should transportation be any different? Developing transportation systems requires flexibility to create innovative services that can cross municipal and county borders and account for communities of different sizes. RTAs enable this to be done in a more efficient, effective and sustainable manner;”
WHEREAS, WAMM concluded the 2016 document, “Transportation systems are a part of the infrastructure that helps people get to jobs, medical appointments, and remain active and engaged members of the community and local economy. Where there are strong systems and meaningful mobility choices, there are strong communities. People want to live and work in these communities and are seeking them out; and,
WHEREAS, Our County places great importance on our system of mobility for the populations most in need of the services that a Regional Transit Authority could provide our residents, and residents of lower-income counties in our immediate region; and
WHEREAS, Our County places high value on the principles of “sustainability,” and
WHEREAS, lack of mobility for low-income workers and retired persons is a factor contributing to their lack of “sustainability,” while Regional Transit would allow easier access to jobs, schools, health care, and basic needs;
THEREFORE, Our County calls upon the Wisconsin Legislature to quickly craft and pass Legislation once again enabling Regional Transit Authorities in Wisconsin, and “making an appropriation” to fund such;
FURTHER, that there be no limitations placed on the number of such Authorities, barring duplication of services or geographic overlap;
FURTHER, that Legislative obstacles to proceeding with near-100% renewable energy power for such RTAs be removed, keeping in mind future tightening of petroleum and natural gas supplies; and,
FURTHER, that agencies and Legislative Committees charged with overseeing transportation needs, make the creation and link-up of these RTAs into one seamless working statewide system a top priority.
The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite
This year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where business leaders’ public positions on automation’s impact on workers did not match the views they shared privately.
By Kevin Roose
DAVOS, Switzerland — They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.
I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.
In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.
But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.
All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.
“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations. “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”
Few American executives will admit wanting to get rid of human workers, a taboo in today’s age of inequality. So they’ve come up with a long list of buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being “released” from onerous, repetitive tasks. Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re “undergoing digital transformation.”
A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. The figure is expected to climb to 72 percent by next year.
The corporate elite’s A.I. obsession has been lucrative for firms that specialize in “robotic process automation,” or R.P.A. Infosys, which is based in India, reported a 33 percent increase in year-over-year revenue in its digital division. IBM’s “cognitive solutions” unit, which uses A.I. to help businesses increase efficiency, has become the company’s second-largest division, posting $5.5 billion in revenue last quarter. The investment bank UBS projects that the artificial intelligence industry could be worth as much as $180 billion by next year.
Kai-Fu Lee, the author of “AI Superpowers” and a longtime technology executive, predicts that artificial intelligence will eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years. In an interview, he said that chief executives were under enormous pressure from shareholders and boards to maximize short-term profits, and that the rapid shift toward automation was the inevitable result.
The (proposed) Milwaukee offices of the Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn, whose chairman has said he plans to replace 80 percent of the company’s workers with robots in five to 10 years. (TMJ4 photo)
“They always say it’s more than the stock price,” he said. “But in the end, if you screw up, you get fired.”
Other experts have predicted that A.I. will create more new jobs than it destroys, and that job losses caused by automation will probably not be catastrophic. They point out that some automation helps workers by improving productivity and freeing them to focus on creative tasks over routine ones.
But at a time of political unrest and anti-elite movements on the progressive left and the nationalist right, it’s probably not surprising that all of this automation is happening quietly, out of public view. In Davos this week, several executives declined to say how much money they had saved by automating jobs previously done by humans. And none were willing to say publicly that replacing human workers is their ultimate goal.
“That’s the great dichotomy,” said Ben Pring, the director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services firm. “On one hand,” he said, profit-minded executives “absolutely want to automate as much as they can.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “they’re facing a backlash in civic society.”
For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims. Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has said the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years. Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.”
One common argument made by executives is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization. They offer examples like Accenture, which claimed in 2017 to have replaced 17,000 back-office processing jobs without layoffs, by training employees to work elsewhere in the company. In a letter to shareholders last year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said that more than 16,000 Amazon warehouse workers had received training in high-demand fields like nursing and aircraft mechanics, with the company covering 95 percent of their expenses.
But these programs may be the exception that proves the rule. There are plenty of stories of successful reskilling — optimists often cite a program in Kentucky that trained a small group of former coal miners to become computer programmers — but there is little evidence that it works at scale. A report by the World Economic Forum this month estimated that of the 1.37 million workers who are projected to be fully displaced by automation in the next decade, only one in four can be profitably reskilled by private-sector programs. The rest, presumably, will need to fend for themselves or rely on government assistance.
In Davos, executives tend to speak about automation as a natural phenomenon over which they have no control, like hurricanes or heat waves. They claim that if they don’t automate jobs as quickly as possible, their competitors will.
“They will be disrupted if they don’t,” said Katy George, a senior partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.
The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.
“The choice isn’t between automation and non-automation,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “It’s between whether you use the technology in a way that creates shared prosperity, or more concentration of wealth.”
Kevin Roose is a columnist for Business Day and a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. His column, “The Shift,” examines the intersection of technology, business, and culture. @kevinroose • Facebook
A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 25, 2019, on Page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Automation Agenda Hidden by the Davos Elite.
Ideas Are Also Weapons
by Subcomandante Marcos
Toward Freedom magazine, November 2000
The world is not square, or so we learn at school, yet, on the brink of the third millennium, it is not round, either. I do not know which geometrical figure best represents the world in its present state but, in an era of digital communication, we could see it as a gigantic screen-one of those screens you can program to display several pictures at the same time, one inside the other. In our global world, the pictures come from all over the planet. But some are missing-not because there is not enough room on the screen but because someone up there selected these pictures rather than others.
What do the pictures show? On the American continent, we see a paramilitary group occupying the Autonomous National University of Mexico (Unam); but the men in gray uniforms aren’t there to study. Another frame shows an armored column thundering through a native community in Chiapas. Beside this, we see US police using violence to arrest a youth in a city that could be Seattle or Washington. The pictures in Europe are just as gray.
A MEMORABLE OMISSION
Intellectuals have been part of society since the dawn of humanity. Their work is analytical and critical. They look at social facts and analyze the evidence, for and against, looking for anything ambiguous, revealing anything that is not obvious-sometimes even the opposite of what seems obvious.
These professional critics act as a sort of impertinent consciousness for society. They are non-conformists, disagreeing with everything-social and political forces, the state, government, media, arts, religion, and so on.
Activists will just say, “We’ve had enough,” but skeptical intellectuals will cautiously murmur “too much” or “not enough.” Intellectuals criticize immobility, demand change and progress. They are, nevertheless, part of a society which is the scene of endless confrontation and is split between those who use power to maintain the status quo and those who fight for change.
Intellectuals must choose between their function as intellectuals and the role that activists offer them. It is also here that we see the split between progressive and reactionary intellectuals. They all continue their work of critical analysis. But whereas the more progressive persist in criticizing immobility, permanence, hegemony, and homogeneity, the reactionaries focus their attacks on change, movement, rebellion, and diversity. So, in fact, reactionary intellectuals “forget” their true function and give up critical thought. Their memory shrinks, excluding past and future to focus only on the immediate and present. No further discussion is possible.
Many leading right-wing intellectuals start life as progressives. But they soon attract the attention of the powerful, who deploy innumerable stratagems to buy or destroy them. Progressive intellectuals are “born” in the midst of a process of seduction and persecution. Some resist; others, convinced that the global economy is inevitable, look in their box of tricks and find reasons to legitimize the existing power structure. They are awarded with a comfortable armchair, on the right hand of the prince they once denounced.
They can find any number of excuses for this supposedly “inevitable” outcome: It is the end of history; money is everywhere and all-powerful; the police have taken the place of politics; the present is the only possible future; there is a rational explanation for social inequality. There are even “good reasons” for the unbridled exploitation of human beings and natural resources, racism, intolerance, and war.
In an era marked by two new paradigms- communication and the market-right-wing intellectuals have realized that being “modern” means obeying one rule: “Adapt or go under.” They aren’t required to be original, just to think like everyone else, taking their cue from international bodies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or World Trade Organization.
Far from indulging in original, critical thought, right-wing intellectuals become remarkably pragmatic, echoing the advertising slogans that flood the world’s markets. In exchange for a place in the sun and the support of certain media and governments, they cast off their critical imaginations and any form of self-criticism, and espouse the new, free market creed.
The problem isn’t why the global economy is inevitable, but why almost everyone agrees that it is. Just as the economy is becoming increasingly global, so is culture and information. How are we to prevent vast media and communications companies like CNN or News Corporation, Microsoft or AT&T, from spinning their worldwide web?
In today’s world economy, the major corporations are essentially media enterprises, holding up a huge mirror to show us what society should be, not what it is. To paraphrase Regis Debray, what is visible is real and consequently true. That, by the way, is one of the tenets of right-wing dogma. Debray also explains that the center of gravity of news has shifted from the written word to visual effects, from recorded to live broadcasts, from signs to pictures.
To retain their legitimacy, today’s right-wing intellectuals must fulfill their role in a visual era, opting for what is immediate and direct, switching from signs to images, from thought to TV commentary.
In Mexico, left-wing intellectuals are very influential. Their crime is that they get in the way. Well, at least one of their crimes, since they also support the Zapatistas in their struggle. “The Zapatista uprising heralds the start of a new era in which native movements will emerge as players in the fight against the neoliberal global economy,” they say. But we are neither unique nor perfect. Just look at the natives of Ecuador and Chile, and the demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Prague- and those that will follow. We are just one of the pictures that deform the giant screen of the world economy.
The prince has consequently issued orders: “Attack them! I shall supply the army and media. You come up with the ideas.” So, right-wing intellectuals spend their time insulting their left-wing counterparts, and because of the Zapatista movement’s international impact, they are now busy rewriting our story to suit the demands of the prince.
In one of his books, Umberto Eco provides some pointers as to why fascism is still latent. He starts by warning us that fascism is a diffuse form of totalitarianism, then defines its characteristics: refusal of the advance of knowledge, disregard of rational principles, distrust of culture, fear of difference, racism, individual or social frustration, xenophobia, aristocratic elitism, machismo, individual sacrifice for the benefit of the cause, televised populism, and use of Newspeak with its limited words and rudimentary syntax.
These are the values that right-wing intellectuals defend. Take another look at the giant screen. All that gray is a response to disorder, reflected in demands for law and order from all around us. But, is Europe once more the prey of fascism? We may well see skinheads, with their swastikas, on the screen, but the commentator is quick to reassure us that they are only minority groups, already under control. But it may also take other, more sinister forms.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, both sides of the political spectrum in Europe rushed to occupy the center. This was all too obvious with the traditional left, but it was also the case with the far right. It went out of its way to acquire a new image, well removed from its violent, authoritarian past, enthusiastically espousing neoliberal dogma.
The task of progressive thinkers-to remain skeptically hopeful-isn’t an easy one. They have understood how things work and, noblesse oblige, they must reveal what they know, dissect it, denounce it, and pass it on to others. But to do this, they must also confront neoliberal dogma, backed by the media, banks, major corporations, army, and police.
What is more, we live in a visual age. And so, to their considerable disadvantage, progressive thinkers must fight the power of the image with nothing but words. But their skepticism will get them out of that trap, and if they are equally skeptical in their critical analysis, they will be able to see through the virtual beauty to the real misery it conceals. So, perhaps there is reason to hope.
There is a story that when Michelangelo sculpted his statue of David, he had to work on a “second-hand” piece of marble that already had holes in it. It is a mark of his talent that he was able to create a figure that took account of these limitations. The world we want to transform has already been worked on by history and is largely hollow. We must nevertheless be inventive enough to change it and build a new world. Take care, and do not forget that ideas are also weapons.
Subcommandante Marcos led the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico until he exited the stage. The above is excerpted from “La droite intellectuelle et lefascisme liberal,” first published in Le Monde diplomatique, August 2000.