The Public Bank

The question has been posed to me: what is the difference between a public bank and a credit union? It’s a good question, considering that, as one person recently expressed on social media “Madison is the credit union capitol of the world.” My response to him was that while credit unions provide many of the same services as banks, and sometimes better, they are limited in other ways.

A public bank, such as the one which has been servicing the state of North Dakota for nearly one hundred years and ostensibly saved them from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, does business as the city or state in which it is located. This means that it is the authority of the city or state upon which the bank is predicated, that it is able to access far greater resources than a credit union — or even some private banks — and that the revenue which it generates goes not into the hands of shareholders or to the bank itself but to the municipality or region which it services.

Would a Bank of Madison compete with private banks or credit unions? No. Credit unions do an excellent job of serving their member-owners and of creating credit for small businesses. The public bank would go after bigger fish, namely commercial mortgages and municipal bonds trading. We will be able to offer large commercial interests within the city the option of removing their mortgages from private banks which, we have seen, are more than willing to mix them up in the derivatives market. Now, after the passage of the “Cromnibus bill” last December which further stripped the Dodd-Frank bill — passed after the crisis of 2008 in order to prevent a repeat crash — of its power, it is more urgent than ever that we act to insulate local businesses from the fluctuations of the derivatives market.

Retail mortgages and individuals’ mortgages are taken care of relatively well by credit unions and there is no reason that the public bank should reach into and alter already well-functioning institutions. Neither would we immediately begin lending money to stimulate or support the growth of small business, that can come later and with careful consideration of the rest of Madison’s lending-ecosystem.

We will be able to offer a lower interest rate for mortgages than the private banks and the money which we do collect will go towards paying down our debt. This will have a twofold benefit. It will allow us to slow down the continual rise of our property tax rate which will in turn stabilize rent prices. For those who haven’t noticed, rental prices have been rising steadily over the past few years and they are poised to continue their climb, especially if we do not decide quickly how we will guide the growth of business and high-density real estate. The clamoring of tech companies outside our door should give us a clue as to what some in our political scene have in mind for the future of Madison — and cities like San Antonion and San Francisco may offer a warning. Development is already booming, and if we aren’t careful we may feel the bust harder than other parts of the country which aren’t considered such hot areas for speculation. High-tech companies and wealthy developers may not be worried, but those in Madison’s middle and working classes should be.

This is the real reason for all of Madison’s recent placements on “Best” place lists. It is a signal for national corporations that the proverbial Fruit has matured and that it is time to eat.

Another opportunity will be available to us once the public bank is up and running successfully for a few years: we will be able to create credit for our own development. This means loans to the city to fund infrastructure, loans which will not weigh us down with usurious compound interest rates imposed by the private banks. How nice it will be to go to the public bank and break ground on a new garage for our metro fleet (which would be necessary before talking about expanding our bus system and making room for rapid transit, which we badly need) in the same day, and knowing that the funding will not be borrowed money but interest gathered in the course of doing business!

Nationally, politicians have been pushing states and municipalities towards bankruptcy so that it will be easier to press privatization upon an otherwise unwilling populace. We saw it with the “austerity” measures forced upon Greece and Ireland in 2006, and we would be remiss if we allowed it to happen here without doing everything we could to prevent it. New Jersey’s governor just moved to privatize their water. We do not have to go along with it. There is still time to determine our own economic fate, to take an active role in the creation of local businesses, and to decide the character of our own city. There is still time to choose a better future for our children.


On Race, Police, and Incarceration

Recently the Isthmus published an article which gave brief mention to my position on the hot issue of the Dane County Jail and my support for alternatives to incarceration such as work-sentencing programs: especially those revolving around agriculture. This report is correct; I believe that the essential function of “corrections” should be to grow individuals’ skill-sets and self confidence as well as foster improved connections to their communities. It was not mentioned that I also believe that all workers are deserving of earning a reasonable wage. That is: all who do work, whether the circumstances under which they work are freely chosen or not, deserve a reasonable wage.

When the subject of agricultural education and training programs for HUBER inmates — programs which would, as proposed, have been conducted on county land and with county-paid instructors — came up last Spring before the county board the county executive declined to pursue the idea. I believe that things will go differently next time. Work-sentencing is an excellent way to reduce the expense we pay towards a wholly unjust institution and if we can keep people in their own communities rather than removing them the positive impact will be immeasurable. Likewise, this is an opportunity to redirect Federal and State funds which should have already been going to programs which educate and provide greater economic opportunity for people…

Just a few days ago Dane Co. Supervisor John Hendrick introduced a resolution which would guarantee that inmates are paid at least the Federal minimum wage for all work that they perform. This is a laudable proposal and I applaud Mr. Hendrick for his work.

Back to the Isthmus, here are my thoughts on jails:

I don’t believe that the modern American penal system is corrective or “restorative” by any stretch of the imagination. How do we correct behaviors that stem from the traumas of physical, mental, or emotional abuse? It is childhood trauma and neglect, lack of guidance and the absence of empathetic persons in positions of authority which shape young minds into anti-social adults. It is material poverty which drives most of the activity deemed “criminal” by today’s justice system.

So how does locking someone up solve the problem? The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It merely quarantines them. Not only that, but it turns its victims into sources of extremely cheap labor. In America that labor is taken full advantage of…producing goods sold by major American retailers, fighting fires (in California), doing highway cleanup (everywhere) which would otherwise be performed by unionized state or city workers, and through companies like UNICOR producing attire which is worn by our military. This is the true purpose of the system, and it is working exactly how it was intended to.

Our prison system has taken on the appearance of a pre-civil war era Southern plantation. Is this by accident? Some of the earliest prisons in the country were built in order to temporarily hold enslaved Africans as their captors moved through towns, and today’s Rangers (a la Walker of Texas) can trace their origins to roving bands of slave-catchers. Slavery was the law and the Rangers, usually poor whites who would otherwise be working as share-croppers themselves, who were paid and told by the land-holding gentry that they were deserving of special distinction above blacks, were more than happy to enforce it. What better way to convince themselves things weren’t so bad despite the inequalities in wealth and ownership of resources which were part-and-parcel of their daily lives? Such delusion runs rampant in our society today, just as it did then.

How have we arrived at our current levels of racial disparity in incarceration? The answer to this question is the same answer as we may give to the question of disparities in education and employment, and it is this: Following the verdict in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 a group of 101 Southern politicians came together to put forward what they dubbed the “Southern Manifesto.” It was presented on March 12th, 1956, with the expressed purpose of reversing the results of the ruling by all available legal means. The means which they chose were the de-funding of now-desegregated public schools. Systematically-advantaged whites could enroll their children in private schools, the reasoning went, while blacks who did not enjoy the same privilege would have no choice but to continue relying on the public system. The strategy has been very successful, and over the subsequent decades the cuts to our schools have continued in an ever-more frenzied fashion. At the same time the welfare system has been dismantled. The easily foreseeable result of these cuts for historically-disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color, has been the continual increase in rates of poverty. The criminalization of activities such as trading and selling drugs, a reliable method of gaining income for those not granted legitimacy by the [white, male] power structure, closed the loop, and by redirecting funds which would otherwise have gone to education and basic support for those who most needed it into the prison system the fate of black communities was sealed. We now pay $40,000 per year for every Federal prisoner. These are individuals who would otherwise be working and raising families, who might have received an excellent education if it had not been decided that the money would be better used to lock them up. This is the new plantation and it is a stain on the fabric of our nation.

In the North, the modern system of policing evolved along a slightly different, though convergent route. As Sam Mitrani, Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage and author of “The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict 1850-1894” writes for

“The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.”

So we can see quite clearly why the Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition might propose the elimination of police contact in Madison’s communities of color. We can see why people protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Tamir Rice, and the countless other victims of a flawed social philosophy have faced severe backlash from law enforcement in cities around the country. The concentration of power in the hands of police has increased over the past decades, and especially since America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. With surplus military weapons now being fed to local law enforcement agencies around the country it is no wonder that many of the people in whose hands the power has been concentrated have become unable to wield it responsibly. Consider also the macabre irony that weapons created to kill dark-skinned foreigners have now been turned on our own populations of color…but even this follows a well-established historical precedent.

As Steven Thrasher writes for The Guardian:
“The War Machine has always had an insatiable need for bodies of color from before the birth of this nation. The genocide of Native Americans, the Atlantic Slave trade of Africans, the conquest of Mexicans, the colonization of Filipinos and Hawaiians, the mass importation of Chinese workers subsequently denied citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act: the War Machine created and then expanded the size of the United States using non-white bodies, waging war against them, and making them second-class citizens (when it deigned to make them citizens at all). Though the 13th Amendment ended legal slavery, it did not end the War Machine’s assault on black people, which has simply morphed from slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow segregation, to modern day schools which are just as segregated, police violence, economic exploitation and mass incarceration. The War Machine has so effectively decimated the black community, for example, that for the few of us who do manage to get, say, an education, it is almost meaningless as a way to move up in the world.

The Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just justice for our deaths: it’s about the depreciation of black life in the service of accumulation of stuff for white people, from slavery to “security” to shopping. This status quo is protected,often violently, by police. And now as the War on Terror (allegedly) scales down, there is an oversupply of “stuff” used to commit violence in the name of quelling it – and an undersupply of violence to quell. The “ongoing slippage between policing and war that still visibly characterizes the present”, as the historian Nikhil Pal Singh recently observed, shouldn’t be seen as mere coincidence: it’s the War Machine coming home, and coming home as hungry as ever.”

We now must start the great task of dismantling this system of oppression. It will not be easy, because almost everything we know has been built on it, but if we do not begin now then our children will be crushed under its immeasurable weight, condemned to a new and universal slavery. Orwell’s perpetual war has nearly been realized, and if we are to escape it we must turn our attention now to a totally different way of life.

In Norway they take quite a different approach than that taken in most industrial countries to solving the problems of anti-social behavior. What is their approach? They treat people like human beings. There jails are set up as small villages where inmates are given roles and responsibilities. This is not true of every jail, but the model is being employed in some areas and with great success. Inmates are provided with opportunities to learn useful skills and to situate themselves within a social network, preparing them for life on the outside as rehabilitated citizens. The recidivism rate is extremely low when compared to places such as Great Britain or the United States and there are no life sentences.

For another model we can look to the pre-Columbian period during which this land held a population roughly equal to that of today. There were no jails or structures built for the capture and detention of individuals before the arrival of the white man. So how did they deal with the social conflicts which inevitably arise during the course of human interactions? The inhabitants of Turtle Island (North America) kept what were known as Peace Villages. The Peace Villages were places, under the auspices of Peace Chiefs, where individuals who had broken the social contract could go for a period of up to one year to wash themselves of their transgressions through meditation, physical training, ceremony, and restricted diet. No blood could be spilled, neither human nor animal, in these villages, and the Peace Chief conducted different rites and rituals to maintain the space. Members of warring tribes could occupy these spaces and rest even in the midst of conflicts, and many whites who had been forced out of their communities found their way to these places. After one year, even if they had committed murder, individuals who were sent to the Peace Village would be allowed to return to their homes where they would be welcomed back with the understanding that they had performed proper penance and were prepared to rejoin communal life. It is a shameful and absurd irony that we who decimated the native way of life would dare to call ours the Land of the Free when it was only truly so before our arrival.

I believe that we can look to these models of respect and restorative justice to guide our policies here in Madison. The first step is to acknowledge that in many ways our current model of incarceration, punishment, and extraction (both of capital as fines and court costs and of labor) does not strengthen but actually weakens our communities. The second step is to begin thinking of ways by which we can build trust and equity in the application of justice. We must recognize that many of our laws are designed more around property rights and the guarantee that people of privilege may conduct their business undisturbed by the complaints of those without than around a truly equitable and pro-social model. Third, we must pursue programs which offer people the opportunity to build connections rather than relying on practices which sever them.

These are the fact, and they must be acknowledged. My personal belief is that we must strive to create a society which is free of the need for police and jails, one which offers opportunities for all people, one which is based on mutual respect and cooperation. It is class division which foments violence, which creates a need for a class of enforcers to prevent those who have been systematically denied the privileges which the few have claimed for their own from casting their oppressors away.

Despite the tones mentioned in the Isthmus; as mayor I would not dissolve the police department, because it would not be my lot to do so. It is the will of the people of Madison which I am responsible to, and only when the whole of society was ready to do so would it be a reasonable action to take. My commitment is instead to create the conditions which will lead us away from the need for these systems. It is my ambition to make ours’ a Peace City.

So, Who is this “Dave” Guy, Anyway?

In the Letters & Comments section on the inside front page of the Aug. 27th issue of Isthmus magazine there was a tongue-in-cheek submission by Chuck Litweiler. He wrote;

“I know that Madison will never elect a mayor whose views are close to mine. Still I wake each day profoundly grateful that Dave Cieslewicz is not mayor (“Time to Start Over on Judge Doyle Square” 8/21/2014). He still envisions a “great” city ever growing with carless, childless, hip, affluent downtown dwellers. Thank goodness he did not get us to cram a railroad station and public market downtown. Thank goodness we did not finance the Edgewater renewal and a trolley system to replace buses downtown. The list could go on and on.
Dave, give in to your urge and run for mayor again so that we can choose once and for all whether we want your vision for our city. As to Judge Doyle square, let’s not quibble over the planning process and subsidy amount. Do not subsidize a hotel there, period.”

As someone who is admittedly new to examining our city’s political scene with a critical eye it’s a bit difficult for me to pick apart the above statement, but I guess I’ll give it a shot.

First of all, I like the idea of a trolley or any type of public rail transportation with a low carbon footprint. I have even suggested to constituents that the city begin tearing up lesser-used roads to replace them with Greenways complete with substantial agricultural space and dairy barns. This is how cities should be built, and while I’m not saying that this would be my first priority it would be a long-term goal. A trolley or light rail system would be something I would push for in the more immediate future. I’ve often wondered what we could accomplish if we said “to heck with the State government, why shouldn’t Madison and the surrounding cities pool their resources, borrow if necessary, and just build the dang train?” We should ALREADY have high speed rail, but what if we stopped griping about it and actually did something?

As far as I know the public market is already happening (woo-hoo!), so I’ll leave that one be.

When I read “hip and affluent” the Cap Times cover story written by ald. Lucas Dailey (no relation) six weeks ago came immediately to my mind. The headline was “Vision for a Complete City” (since we’re discussing Visions anyway I figure let’s have at it) and the article laid out a plan for a city which would “compete with convention deals not with the Dells but with San Francisco and New York,” a city which would be “relevant to the 21st century.”

This says a lot about where he (and presumably others) believe our city’s strengths are: as a destination for business travelers and tourists, for one. It is easy to see how one might reach this conclusion…given the state of our economy, driven as it has been in the last years by a group whose sole purpose is to privatize everything. Some people believe that “Corporatocracy” is inevitable. I however do not.

He goes on to write “I believe the city should create a staff position to market Madison and recruit tech companies to move here…” all I can say is that we should not be prostituting ourselves into the 21st century. It is not the way to build more sustainable or just communities.

He goes on to write that “Economically, the world is being divided. This is largely due to technology replacing middle and low-skilled jobs, as well as adding scalability to high-skilled jobs. Technology isn’t just reducing blue-collar jobs, it’s also reducing white-collar jobs. This will continue indefinitely and expand into new industries and positions. The companies that will be most durable and prosperous will be those that lead this wave of change: technology companies.”

Dailey’s (again, no relation) vision fits neatly within the neoliberal perpetual-growth paradigm, again, and while his other rhetoric, centering around “helping us reach the highest levels of social justice, democracy and public policy” (see my comment above) sounds quite nice, it ignores the elephant in the room; the fact that social justice and democracy stand at odds with the very notion of perpetual economic expansion and greater reliance on private business to solve the world’s problems. Why? Because perpetual growth assumes perpetual and ever-greater exploitation of our natural resources for one. Because the profit motive has no moral imperative. The rare Earth metals used to make every six months’ new wave of iPhones are extracted in tandem with coal through mountain-top removal and open-pit mining, and private businesses (at this moment) use private banks and private banks have no incentive to invest in the kind of low-return projects which are the heart of a thriving local economy. They go after bigger gains.  We may not be in a position to immediately halt such practices but we need to relentlessly call for their timely cessation. A public bank is one avenue through which this can be achieved…more on that later.

Not only that, but as is pointed out in the film Take Back Your Power technology itself is amoral. The abuse which can be perpetuated, the possibilities for invasion of privacy — and we have already arrived at a moment in history in which all of our movements both online and offline (for anyone who owns a device hooked up to the telecom network and made in the last eight years) — grow exponentially as technology continues to be developed. In the film there is a clip of the CEO of Google appearing on a talk show and speaking of how Google intentionally “goes right up to the “creepy line“‘ in terms of violating people’s privacy, but does not cross it, commenting that the “creepy line” gets pushed farther with every advancement in monitoring and data collection. He commented glibly that at this moment the line is drawn somewhere short of brain-implants, but that should that technology be developed then the line will again have moved and that ultimate invasion, too, will be acceptable. I have absolutely Zero desire to live in such a techno-fascist state. Phone apps are not benign. Our email accounts are not benign. The expansion of wi-fi is not bening. We need to wise up.

From a human rights perspective: the fact that all of this [tech] that Westerners are so in love with is produced under extremely unjust working conditions should be equally concerning. Suicide nets in iphone factories and low wages forced upon desperate people should not be ignored. Companies dedicated to pandering to consumer tech only serve to continue this inhumane and unsustainable business model. We have enough tech devices already for every person on the planet and if American companies would bring their production lines back to America then we would have the skilled workers necessary to turn used components into [new] devices. We should be importing companies which would start doing that.

My vision for a complete city includes substantially increasing the production of tangible goods, skilled crafts-jobs, and centers for cultural/artistic production. We do not have to passively accept the national trends of displacement of labor capitol through greater mechanization/computerization.

Most people may not be thinking about it now but in the next ten years industrial hemp will be legalized and the floodgates will be open. Local production of raw and processed goods will suddenly be back on the table after decades or decline, with the potential applications of this most hardy and abundant material being all but limitless. Concrete, paper, textiles, nutritious foodstuffs, and extremely efficient batteries; all of these things (and about 50 more) can be made from hemp, and if we can beat the major agribusiness conglomerates to the punch we could control the production and manufacturing on the local level. Workers cooperatives could be producing real goods with a “Made in Madison, WI” stamp by the end of my first term (and you can bet your boots that I will be driving for it)!

More immediately, I believe that urban agriculture of the vegetable variety will build stronger, more sustainable communities while answering the need for non-electronic commodities. Portland’s common council recently began instituting its plan to transform unused land into food forests in order to create better nutritional outcomes for its residents. Madison should do the same — and more. Five million sq. ft. of vertical agricultural space could feed the entire city of Madison, and while I accept that it is unlikely that we will achieve that volume in the next five years, I believe that a series of greenhouses which grew even a portion of the food consumed in Madison [in Madison] could significantly bolster our city’s economy. While this may not be as glamorous as another hotel/convention center and may not offer the same quick payoff, the value of such a project in the long-term would be huge, and across the country people are reaching this same conclusion — that the only apparent way to counter the influence of major agribusiness will be to shift to a local food production based model, and there is no reason that Madison shouldn’t lead the way. The jobs created would be a boon to the city, and the vegetables could be put to use where they are most needed; in school lunch and elder-care programs. These initiatives would not attract more “affluent” people, but rather provide working class people with the opportunities that they need.

That’s all I’ll say for right now…(oh yeah, and no subsidy for Judge Doyle Square!)

So Chuck, how do I measure up?