quarta-feira, 26 de junho de 2013

6 Unbelievable Ways the Big Banks Are Scamming You


The claim was made during a meeting with residents who say the "cloudy, odd-tasting water" is making their children sick.
Tennessee Official Says Complaining About Water Quality Could Be Considered 'Act of Terrorism'


A representative for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told a group of concerned citizens that complaining about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” The Tennessean reports.
Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, made the claim during a meeting with residents of Maury County, Tennessee. Organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, the gathering sought to address complaints by residents that area water was making their children sick. In audio obtained byThe Tennessean, Smith can be heard equating water quality complaints, an act of citizenry, with DHS-defined acts of terrorism:
We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously … But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.
According to The Tennessean, several residents saw the statement as “an attempt to silence complaints.” One 68-year-old woman who says she “prays” before sipping the “cloudy, odd-tasting water,” felt that Smith’s message was, “Leave us alone. Don’t come back anymore. We’re not going to continue on dealing with whatever problem you may have.” An official TDEC spokesperson says the department is investigating the matter:
In terms of the comments made by a member of the Water Resources Division at the meeting, we are just receiving the information and looking into this on our end … The department would like to fully assess what was said in the meeting. I am told that the meeting was far longer than the audio clip provided by SOCM and that Mr. Smith actually clarified his remarks. But again, we are looking into it.
At time of publication, the Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.

Complaining About Water Quality Could Be Considered 'Act of Terrorism'


The claim was made during a meeting with residents who say the "cloudy, odd-tasting water" is making their children sick.
Tennessee Official Says Complaining About Water Quality Could Be Considered 'Act of Terrorism'


A representative for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told a group of concerned citizens that complaining about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” The Tennessean reports.
Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, made the claim during a meeting with residents of Maury County, Tennessee. Organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, the gathering sought to address complaints by residents that area water was making their children sick. In audio obtained byThe Tennessean, Smith can be heard equating water quality complaints, an act of citizenry, with DHS-defined acts of terrorism:
We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously … But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.
According to The Tennessean, several residents saw the statement as “an attempt to silence complaints.” One 68-year-old woman who says she “prays” before sipping the “cloudy, odd-tasting water,” felt that Smith’s message was, “Leave us alone. Don’t come back anymore. We’re not going to continue on dealing with whatever problem you may have.” An official TDEC spokesperson says the department is investigating the matter:
In terms of the comments made by a member of the Water Resources Division at the meeting, we are just receiving the information and looking into this on our end … The department would like to fully assess what was said in the meeting. I am told that the meeting was far longer than the audio clip provided by SOCM and that Mr. Smith actually clarified his remarks. But again, we are looking into it.
At time of publication, the Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.

7 Institutions That Threaten to Destroy America


7 Institutions That Have Grown So Monstrously Big They Threaten to Destroy America

With power increasingly corrupted by ever-bigger forces, who will speak for the individual citizens of this country?

Bigger isn’t always better. From the Tower of Babel to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, that principle’s been enshrined in law and legend since the dawn of history. Have we forgotten the lesson?
Corporations, databases, storehouses of personal and institutional wealth all are expanding at ever-increasing speed, threatening to engulf our economy and our lives as they do. That’s the problem with Big Things: Once they reached a certain size, they keep on getting bigger. 
Here are seven ways the runaway power of Bigger in finance and in data is threatening to overwhelm us all.
1. Bigger Corporations
Americans have known about the danger of overly large corporations since the founding of the Republic. “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations,” said Thomas Jefferson, “which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” 
“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity,” Abraham Lincoln observed. “The banking powers are more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy.” 
Even an unlikely populist, Grover Cleveland, said this: “As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear, or is trampled beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.”
Oversized corporate power is why Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. It’s why Theodore Roosevelt broke up the railroad. When businesses become so large that competition’s squeezed out, everybody suffers.
And yet today we’re confronted with the largest corporations in history, with predictable, even inevitable, results. In real dollar terms, the minimum wage is less than half what it was in 1968. One of the main reasons for that is that most minimum-wage employees work for large corporations who dominate both their labor markets and the political process.
The Census Bureau reported in 2008 that 33 million Americans—more than 25 percent of the total workforce—worked for corporations with 10,000 employees or more. The largest employer is Walmart, with an astonishing 1,400,000 employees, followed by the company that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, and then McDonald's. 
With that kind of clout it’s easy to keep wages low while doling out record payouts to executives and shareholders. Walmart, for example, paid $11.3 billion in dividends and share buybacks last year. That comes to more than $8,000 per worker. McDonald’s shareholder payouts came to nearly $7,000 per worker.
What’s more, despite their PR campaigns, there’s no evidence that shoppers benefit by paying less for their goods. Walmart aggressively forces prices downward for its suppliers, sometimes below the cost of production. But the suppliers have to make up the difference somewhere, either by over-charging other stores or underpaying their own employees and suppliers.
Either way, it comes out of the public’s pocket in the end.
Companies like Walmart don’t create jobs, either. They take them from elsewhere, and frequently pay less in wages. A Pennsylvania study found a correlation between the presence of Walmart and increases in county-wide poverty, which the authors speculated might have been because “Walmart stores destroy civic capacity in the communities in which they locate by driving out local entrepreneurs and community leaders.”
They can kill leadership at the national level, too.
2. Bigger Banks
The statistics on too-big-to-fail banks and financial institutions are staggering: The largest 0.2 percent of US banks—12 of them, altogether—control 69 percent of the industry’s total assets, while 98.6 percent of all banks held only 12 percent of assets. 
The four biggest banks still control 83 percent of the derivatives market, and only 25 commercial banks—out of a total of 8,430 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States—control roughly 90 percent of the market.
With the exception of struggling Bank of America, the top five banks all grew even more in the first quarter of this year. Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, co-authored a plan to address the unfair advantage these banks receive because everybody knows the government won’t let them fail.
And while the mega-banks tell us that customers can benefit from their “economies of scale,” customers have not seen lower rates or charges as the result of their extraordinary consolidation.
These banks are holding the economy and the public hostage to their own possible failure. That’s why they—and the bankers who work for them—were publicly notified by the Attorney General of the United States that they needn’t fear prosecution for their crimes. He later tried to walk that statement back, but he had only articulated a policy that had long been obvious among observers and lawmakers.
Our largest banks are becoming bigger than the law.
3. Bigger Investors
Holding companies, hedge funds, and other institutions own more and more of the private-sector economy. That includes groups like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which invests in everything from pharmacies to retail chains to homes for troubled teens.
Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding government contractors like his last employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, which is owned by a holding company called the Carlyle Group. Booz Allen brought the Carlyle Group $5.9 billion in revenue last year. In a classic example of Bigger in action, it also announced a new national security deal in February worth $11 billion.
Mega-investors like Bain Capital and the Carlyle Group aren’t like entrepreneurs or investors of the past, who put money and effort into businesses they believed in and then built them to last. They want their payouts on the shortest possible timeline, so they push executives at the companies they own to make the bottom line look as good as possible.
Sometimes that means sacrificing the long-term good of the company for a fast-buck payout to these holding companies. That may be one of the reasons why so many American corporations are giving out so much in dividends and share buybacks, rather than investing in infrastructure and employees.
When investors get Bigger, they insist on getting paid Faster.
4. Bigger Charities
It should be no surprise that all of this, along with government policies toward taxation and other matters, is creating runaway levels of individual wealth. And as a few individuals amass extraordinary wealth, even charitable giving becomes a bigger problem.
The philanthropic world is now dominated by a few players. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the mega-player, with more than $34 billion in assets. That’s more than the next three foundations combined. As of 2011, the top five foundations held nearly one-third as much in assets as the top 100 foundations put together. As foundations and other philanthropies expand, charitable organizations which are outside their funding protocols are less and less likely to receive funds.
Some players get Bigger within a niche. New York’s Robin Hood Foundation, originally funded by hedge fund donors, was given a great deal of authority over small donors’ funds to aid the region’s victims of Hurricane Sandy. Like similar foundations, Robin Hood has occasionally been used as a propaganda tool for arguing that government “can’t do the job.”
That’s not charity. That’s ideology.
Using aggressive sales tactics and rough elbows, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure came to dominate the breast cancer charity world. It became controversial after suing other charities that used some of the same phrases or symbols, even when they would have seemed to be in the public domain. (The word “cure” and the color pink were the subjects of two such lawsuits.) 
The Komen group then abruptly defunded Planned Parenthood and other service groups, seemingly for political reasons. The resulting controversy helped the debate in one very real sense: it provided an object lesson in the dangers of Bigger, even in the world of charity.
5. Bigger Corporate Data
The recent NSA scandals have revealed the dangers of Bigger Data. But that phenomenon’s closely linked to Bigger’s other areas of overgrowth, especially in finance and investment. The scandal and controversy surrounding Facebook’s IPO (initial public offering) offered a glimpse into the intersection of Mega-Banks, Mega-Investors, and Mega-Data.
Every large enterprise is now pursuing bigger data. A new private study suggests that there continue to be fewer corporate data centers in the United States, but that each is correspondingly larger. Highly centralized databases leave businesses, economies and societies more vulnerable to disruptions caused by accidents, natural disasters, or acts of terror.
The Big Data vendors include Twitter, Facebook and Google. But they also include niche forms of Big Data, like banking. Newly launched banking investigations involve something called "dark pools," an alternative form of trading that takes place outside the normal stock markets. There is now evidence that the banks and service companies whose data platforms provide this service have been "front-running" trades, using customer information from their data systems to enrich themselves.
Even news organizations are entering the data-selling business. For $2,000 a month, Thomson Reuters offers a service called “ultra-low latency” which gives subscribers access to key economic reports two seconds before they’re released to the public. As Business Insider notes, “two seconds in … trading time is an eternity.” That’s because stock markets are computerized Big Data operations, too, and transactions can occur at nearly light-speed.
Big Data corporations are typically currently valued well in excess of what its real revenues would suggest. That’s certainly true of Facebook, because the world of Bigger believes in the power of data—and Facebook has it.
Most Facebook users would probably say that its interface is hard to use. Its founders aren’t wealthy because they’re brilliant programmers. They’re not visionaries, either. They thought they were creating a relatively small set of social networks for colleges. But they stumbled onto something powerful—the power of data that users volunteered about themselves—and they exploited it aggressively before anyone else could compete with them.
That’s how the world of Bigger works. You don’t need to be the best. You need to be the first. Then you need to be aggressive in order to stay the biggest. The forces of Bigger will do the rest.
6. Bigger Government Data
Mega-data is changing our government, too. The Obama administration’s “Big Data Initiative” suggests a mentality which believes Big Data is more useful than other forms of information.
Big Data has already created a national security apparatus of staggering proportions, as Dana Priest and William Arkin reported for the Washington Post. Large databases can provide enormously useful information, but they can be a distraction too. As Priest and Arkin observed, “lack of focus, not lack of resources,” prevented law enforcement officials from stopping the Fort Hood shootings.
That can happen when too much data is presented without adequate screening. Reports from a smaller data initiative—perhaps even an old-fashioned warrant and search on the radical cleric with whom he was corresponding—might have been much more effective in preventing this tragedy.
We should learn from experience before assuming that the best thing to do with Big Data is make it even bigger. But that’s not the plan: Amazon, one of the corporate world’s biggest data players, has been hired to create a “private cloud” system for the CIA at a cost of $600 billion. That’s more than half a trillion dollars. For what, exactly? We don’t know. Perhaps to ensure that the same technology which keeps recommending those novels you don’t want to read guides the thinking of our intelligence community.
With Bigger Data comes greater temptation. Thanks to the Center for Media and Democracy’s review of Freedom of Information Act documents, we now know that at least one national security “fusion center” strayed from its anti-terrorism mission in order to analyze data on citizens conducting peaceful protests. Why? Because Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Bigger bank JPMorgan Chase, was coming to town and didn’t want to confront protesters. 
That’s how Bigger works. Money, data and influence can intersect in unexpected and harmful ways.
7. Bigger Cronyism
As institutions and databases become larger, the temptations of power become bigger too. The Carlyle Group has been able to use its money to attract government figures from both parties, including former President George H. W. Bush and several senior members of the Clinton administration.
For his part, former President Clinton dealt for years with billionaire Ron Burkle, who offered him what the New York Times described as “the potential to make tens of millions of dollars without great effort and at virtually no risk.” For her part, former Secretary of State and leading presidential contender Hillary Clinton was on the board of directors of Walmart.
Big Power Often Follows Big Money
The Clinton, Bush and Obama Treasury Departments and regulatory agencies each became revolving-door operations for Wall Street. Officials and bank executives must have grown accustomed to seeing one another on the Acela train that runs from New York to Washington. The ones headed south are taking government jobs, where their friends will be well protected.
The ones headed north are cashing in.
We’ve seen the spectacle of three former presidents, two Republicans and a Democrat, unable to resist the lure of big wealth. We’ve seen the 21st century’s two sitting presidents, one from each party, unable to resist the power of big data. With power increasingly corrupted by ever-bigger forces, who will speak for the individual citizens of this country?
Obama advisor Cass Sunstein attributes a wise quote to legal scholar Karl Llewellyn: “Technique without morals is a menace, but morals without technique is a mess.” But while Sunstein is presumably arguing against the latter, today’s more urgent and difficult task is to put an end to the former.
That’s why we need a new system of checks and balances. We need to recognize that Bigger needs to be tempered by fairer, that top-down control needs to be replaced with lateral decision-making, that a centralized financial, corporate, and government complex must never replace the smaller and more humane systems of democracy and small-business free enterprise.
The universe offers us a warning in the astronomical phenomenon known as a “singularity,” or “black hole.” If a star becomes too large, it begins to draw everything around it into its gravity field. Nothing can escape the hole around it, not even light. Then the star begins to collapse in upon itself, compressed by the irreversible force of its own mass growing greater and greater.
We don’t deserve Bigger, we deserve better.
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

Illegal Female Genital Cutting Is a Growing Phenomenon in US

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Evidence Shows That Illegal Female Genital Cutting Is a Growing Phenomenon in US

Up to 200,000 American girls and women are at risk, many of them sent abroad to undergo the procedure.
Photo Credit: Flickr (cc)
In Western culture, mere mention of FGM sends feminist activists up in arms, generating intense negative feelings and evoking discussion about sexism, brutality and gender-based violence. However, while FGM is mostly practiced in African and Middle Eastern countries and classified as an “off-shore problem,” many Americans are unaware of the cultural complexities embedded in the custom and the fact that it is happening right under our noses.
According to a report by the non-profit group Sanctuary for Families, the practice of FGC is on the rise in the United States. The study claims that up to 200,000 American girls and women are at risk of FGM whether at home or through what is known as "vacation cutting," in which young women in the U.S. are sent abroad to undergo the ritual.
"People in the United States think that FGM only happens to people outside of the United States, but in all actuality, people here all over the country have been through FGM. Kids that were born in this country are taken back home every summer and undergo this procedure," a 23-year-old woman from Gambia stated in the report.
The document claims that traditional practitioners are often secretly brought in from overseas to carry out the ritual on U.S. soil, where an entire group of girls may be cut in an afternoon.
Such occurrences, according to Claudia De Palma of Sanctuary for Families, are the result of family pressure from the ancestral home as well as from community and regional leaders who wish to preserve the practice for generations that are now growing up in the United States.
“We started to see that once it became illegal to conduct FGM in the United States in 1996, more and more families started sending children back home over school vacation, and it would happen there. Sometimes it was the intention of the trip to meet with grandparents—a coming of age—and sometimes it was not intended that it was going to happen, but once the girl arrived, it became clear that this was what the larger community had in mind,” she told AlterNet.
It's difficult to estimate exactly how many girls have been exposed to the practice in the United States. The procedure is heavily under-reported and shrouded in secrecy by communities and family members who are aware of the legal ramifications of revealing that they have committed FGC. According to De Palma, anecdotal evidence suggests that the figures of those at risk of FGM in the United States are a lot higher than initially indicated.
“Every year we see thousands of women who have experienced FGM or who are fearing the practice come in to see us. Some of the women we receive are community survivors, others have immigrated here based in part that they were forced to undergo FGM, and others have daughters who are U.S. citizens and are terrified their daughters will be subject to vacation cutting,” she said.
The report provides a number of case studies of victim statements, such as a 17-year-old girl who was sent from the U.S. to Angola and told she was being prepared for circumcision in order to become a woman so her husband would respect her. The girl didn’t know what the procedure involved, and could only conclude from her family’s reassurance that this was the best thing for her.

The Commons, Old and New

Publicado por La vie des idées fr

From Land Use to Information Sharing
by Eva Hemmungs Wirtén , 17 June

The idea of the Commons prospers today as a powerful trope of twenty-first century sharing. To tell the story of how yesterday’s digging and grazing became today’s googling and sampling, we need to look more closely at the way the unique properties of the modern information landscape come into focus by reference to the old commons economy: through the concepts of user rights, openness and enclosure.

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Openness and Enclosure

In her documentary Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000), Agnès Varda revisits the traditional practice of gleaning within present-day France. Her cross-country travels searching for waste and miscellaneous discarded items begin appropriately with the land and tons of potatoes not uniform enough for the supermarket. Rummaging through the far-from-perfect heap, she quickly finds the first of the heart-shaped spuds that were to become a symbol of the successful film and her 2002 follow-up Les glaneurs et la glaneuse: deux ans après. From grapes and apples to art, collages, and installations, Varda seamlessly juxtaposed our use of tangible resources with more intangible ones – including that which ‘falls in-between language,’ as the viticulturist/psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche poetically described his own work. In this text, I want to use Varda’s film as a starting point to explore the two parallel processes of enclosure and openness.
During the past few years, ubiquitous digitization and globalization have made knowledge, culture, and information into major assets for the twenty-first century. How to ensure sustainable use of resources that are easily sampled as well as disseminated is one of the most crucial (and contentious) issues we grapple with in contemporary society. New forms of collaboration have emerged in Internet-based fan communities as well as in academia. Long-established notions of what it means to be a creator as well as a user are challenged by an increasing flora of initiatives that have the idea of sharing in common; from Facebook to YouTube, from Open Access to Open Source to Open Innovation, from Creative Commons to the Public Library of Science, digital access and openness is on everybody’s mind.
There is no doubt that many of these initiatives have come about as a reaction to an expansion of intellectual property rights, the legal regime used to protect intangibles. We can include three areas in this enlargement: subject matter (protection covers not only text, music, and film, but also databases, software, DNA-sequencing, and potentially also traditional knowledge); time (we have witnessed a gradual prolongation of the period for which protection is granted); and space (while still subjected to national legislation, from the Berne Convention in 1886 to the Trade Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights [TRIPS] in 1994, intellectual property policy increasingly functions within an elaborate matrix of international agreements and conventions). Think about the controversy around the Pirate Bay, to the demonstrations and boycotts surrounding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and you will have an idea of the stakes involved.
Some have described the way in which intellectual property rights increasingly seem to curtail and circumscribe creative activity as a ‘second enclosure movement’ or ‘a digital land grab.’ If digitization has brought about a movement appearing for the second time, then there must be a predecessor: a “first” enclosure movement. If we are to understand something of the tensions between enclosure and openness as they come to us today, we need to consider at least something of the underlying historical and theoretical principles that have shaped our understanding of and response to these developments. Although we perhaps like to think that we have done away with physical space, multiple representations of land permeate and structure the way we think about openness and the Internet. Inevitably, real and metaphorical land (a versatile trope used to argue for as well as against private property) will have a prominent place in that discussion.

The “First” Enclosure Movement

In 1700, England still consisted of large tracts of open fields, pastures and grazing lands, but by 1840 most of it had been fenced in and made into private property. Beginning in earnest with the statute of Merton in 1235, enclosure continued piecemeal during many centuries to reach its high point in the twenty-year period between 1765 and 1785. Enclosure was about fencing in what once were open fields, known as the commons. In the following, I want to make more distinct some of the reasons why the idea of the commons survives in the networked and knowledge-intensive present. To tell the story of how yesterday’s digging and grazing became today’s googling and sampling and how the commons prospers as a powerful trope of twenty-first century sharing, we need to look closer at the concept of use and use-rights.
The commons was never a space of absolute freedom before enclosure of the land. Vested in the lord of the manor, the de facto ownership of common lands was never in question: technically, they were the wastes of the manors in which they were situated. What prevented the immediate and wholesale enclosure of common land was a long-standing recognition of the right to specific, often highly regulated and customary uses of the land. Tenants of the manor privy to such uses included commoners who owned land, those occupying cottages, inns, and millhouses, and, on the lowest rung of the ladder, landless commoners. All were entitled to use parts of a commons themselves, for grazing or for gathering nuts. The common rights attached to each respective category were secured in a number of different ways. Profoundly local, the profile of these usages depended on an almost infinite number of variables.
‘Use’ in the context of enclosure/openness spans across a complex spectrum of activities and agents. One of the most well-known of such traditions was the right to glean, or to collect the uncut or fallen grain left in the field after harvest, famously depicted in Jean-François Millet’s painting Les Glaneuses from 1857, and, of course, in Varda’s film. Beyond post-harvest pickings, gleaning was frequently mentioned in Victorian publications, and titles such as Churchyard Gleanings and Gleanings from the Poets recognize the inherently collective and consumerist nature of creativity at a period when the concept of authorship, much like today, underwent dramatic changes. Indicative of a much larger restructuring of practices that passed down through generations until becoming a ubiquitous part of commoner’s lives, gleaning nonetheless went from custom-to-crime. It was a customary use that the logic of enclosure translated into trespassing or illegal incursion on private property.
Governed by lex loci, the local law of the manor, custom was used to invoke a usage so ancient as to take on the color of a right or privilege, one seldom, if ever, written down. Consequently, it is the concept of common right (the right to use the commons as symbolic or tangible land) that we talk about when we talk about the commons (whether it be in the ‘old’ meaning of territory or in the more modern metaphorical sense). Ostensibly, enclosure is about land. What it brought about on a much more profound level was a radical change in traditions and custom relating to the fabric of social life as a whole. A slow and contested process evolving over many centuries, we have witnessed agricultural and local economies being replaced by capitalism and industrialization, and industrialization being superseded by the information age. As we are confronted with a second enclosure movement—targeting the mind rather than the land—we should keep this history in mind and learn from it.


Even if we cannot reduce the call for openness to a simple cause-and-effect reaction to enclosure, it would be equally misleading not to see the two as intimately related. Many of the initiatives we have grown accustomed to as placeholders of the openness movement have developed around a critique of an over-bloated intellectual property rights regime. Vision statements such as that of the influential Creative Commons (CC) list a few recurring concerns: “Realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research, education, full participation in culture, and driving a new era of development, growth, and productivity.” While born digital and hardly twenty years old, the openness movement may be contemporaneous with the breakthrough of the Internet, however in a conceptual sense it draws inspiration from a history going back many centuries. As digital movements go, it is not a homogenous unit but a distributed Net-network of loosely connected and sometimes even conflicting initiatives, initiatives that include activists as well as academics.
Rooted in the arrival of free software and open source, the openness movement emphasizes access to knowledge, the virtue of sharing, and the ethics of participation and collaboration. As part of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and now with the next generation Web 3.0 on the horizon, to date we have seen a proliferation of digital platforms bearing the label “open,” or drawing on the virtues of “the commons.” The potential of networked innovation, crowd sourcing, and collaboration are seen as key elements in the openness movement. As part of the much-touted Europe 2020 strategy, “openness” is one of the key action points of the European Commission Innovation Union. Movements such asA2K, platforms such as Open Science or Science Commons, and the proliferation and impact of OA journals that eclipse traditional channels – such as the successful Public Library of Science (PLOS) are indicative of the importance of openness in an information economy and the fact that it now competes with intellectual property rights as a prerequisite for innovative activity. Openness spans a continuum from hacker-ethics to global corporate governance. UNESCO (2011) considers openness a global public good, supporting Open Access “for the benefit of the global flow of knowledge, innovation and equitable socio-economic development.”

The Information Commons

Why then, has the idea of the commons gained such currency as a viable alternative to intellectual property expansionism in the networked and knowledge-intensive present?
The media-saturated, online, globalized information age depends on an information commons, a word familiar to any one who has ever used a well-stocked North American university library, where the clusters of computers servicing the needs of faculty and students alike usually is known by that very name. To talk of the commons within this present context is to speak of an environment on two parallel levels. One commons is still, despite evidence we might think we have to the contrary, highly tangible. However, there is also another one, which is intangible and informational, reducible to bits and zeros. The fact that both have spatial connotations allows us to include information, airwaves, and the Internet with centuries of elaborate irrigation management in Andalusia, and surfers sharing or excluding other surfers from the best waves on the beaches of Australia or California.
Decentered and deterritorialized, at first sight the concerns of this new commons appear very different from what was at stake many centuries ago. Rather than meadows, fish, or any other physical resource that may be subject to depletion or overuse, information, knowledge, symbols, and text make up the valuables we search for on never-ending digital grazing lands. The information commons represents therefore the ultimate disconnection from actual land; when using the term in the twenty-first century we picture a virtual and digital space, and not the verdant hills and fields of the English countryside. When did the commons begin to make sense within this contemporary framework? When did it become commonplace to add the word information in front, or map a predominately historical and material concept onto symbolic rather than tangible space? To pinpoint the beginning of such a change is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. To suggest the information commons interdependency with the emergence of the World Wide Web would hardly be an exaggerated claim. Equally uncontroversial is assuming that the basic condition of globalization offers the surrounding structure within which we must conceptualize this particular development.
Primarily, the productiveness of the information commons as concept derives from a recognition of the specificity of the informational resource and its uses. The information commons is simply made of a very different raw material than soil, turf, and grass. Information-based resources are both non-rival (my use of information does not hinder yours; in fact, you and I can use the same resource simultaneously with no detrimental effect taking place), as well as non-excludable (initially, information can be costly to produce, but new technology makes it difficult to hinder an infinite number of users at zero marginal cost). The first criteria is essential for those who wish to disprove the applicability of Garrett Hardin’s infamous ‘tragedy of the commons’ in a situation where information is both the outcome of, and the prerequisite for, production. Indeed, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ is practically unavoidable in any study dealing with the management of the commons, regardless of epistemological inclinations. Hardin made one simple point: if you imagine a pasture open to all, each herdsman will not be altruistic, but instead he will try his utmost to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons, even when the end result will prove detrimental to himself. As long as there is a functioning balance between what the land can hold and the use of it, everything is just dandy. Unfortunately, this state of equilibrium is but a chimera, since ‘the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.’
Hardin describes is a situation where nobody has the power to deny anybody else’s right to use, and where self-interest always wins out. If there are no possible benefits to be had, the incentive to invest is nil. Resources left to their own devices in the commons will simply vanish. Since the commons cannot govern itself and the voice of reason is not heard, something must be done. Hardin saw several possibilities for governance of the commons: making it into private property, allocating access by means of a lottery or perhaps on a first-come, first-served basis – all were conceivable options. Nobel Prize recipient Elinor Ostrom has argued very differently, and shows in her research that there is a remarkable plethora of examples from a middle ground, where the answer to the problems of the commons is neither complete privatization, nor absolute statist intervention. One of the major dilemmas of these two basic solutions that tends to be called upon to solve the risk of overutilization is that both are imposed from outside or above on those who use the commons, be they farmers or surfers. Both represent top-down solutions to bottom-up practices.
As it turns out, farmers in Andalusia manage very well on their own, successfully allocating water through complex systems of irrigation and settling disputes through the formation of a self-governing tribunal in the town square. Surfers rely on certain norms and informal codes in order to ensure that their usage of waves is consistent with what the community of surfers would expect and consider moral. In the end, the number of examples that punch a hole be specific, local, and limited, but they are sufficiently numerous to repudiate absolutist claims of a preordained unhappy ending. As Carol Rose suggests, there might be another genre Hardin never considered, and that is when the commons in fact should be considered a Comedy.
It is by now a truism that a tragedy in Hardin’s terms is less likely to occur in the information commons. But fences proliferate in this new dominion too. Not made out of wood or barbed wire, they make it increasingly difficult to access information, knowledge, and cultural expressions. Locks need not be cast in iron to be effective; they do their job just as well when invisible and embedded in code. The accelerated use of licensing agreements adds to the complexities of what we think we can and cannot do as users. Temporal and spatial limitations for use in certain digital forms of materials that should reside safely in the public domain do exist. All such hindrances are omnipresent in the jungle that surrounds valuable informational resources.
As we surf the information commons some sections look, feel, and behave differently from the rural commons, while we can move about other parts almost blindfolded. The terminology is familiar enough; we speak of the Digital Commons movement, use the Creative Commons licenses, or support the work done by the Science Commons or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is hardly coincidental that prominent contemporary institutions and organizations are working against the further enclosure of the information commons. As brand new as the concerns of the Open Source movement might be, it is not in name only that they follow in the footsteps of historical precursors such as the Commons Preservation Society and their struggle for Open Spaces in nineteenth-century London. Likewise, the list of initiatives that attempt to regain some of already lost ground and recapture the information commons in science, higher education, and culture is impressive: The Public Library of Science, the Science Commons, the Public Knowledge Project, and Project Gutenberg, to mention but a few.

Commons old and new: an emphasis on use

If I have to choose one common denominator, one thread that weaves through all these various trajectories, then it would be the fact that the information commons, just like its earlier predecessors on terra firma, relates to custom and users rights first and land, second. There is something paradoxical, however, in the ease with which the unique properties of this new resource land- scape come into focus by reference to the old commons economy. Yochai Benkler describes global peer-to-peer production of today as an activity where information technology enables direct participation in a decentralized network outside the relationships of the market. The commons makes sense within the high-tech present because the basis of the networked economy is access to and continuous recirculation of information, something that must involve some sustainable form of use rights.
The key to the iconic role of the commons in the information-based environment is therefore its ability to turn consumers into producers. In the field of scholarly communication, passive appropriators become active providers. In the cultural sphere the consumer/record player/DJ turn into producers. Couch potatoes rise from their insipid consumer existence to a ‘life where one can individually and collectively participate in making something new.’ The Electronic Frontier Foundation open their mission statement by arguing that from the ‘Internet to the iPod, technologies of freedom are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers’; and the Creative Commons licenses are there to ‘offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them.’
The emphasis on use logically brings up the perspective of custom and whether the information commons has any traditions to speak of in this respect. ‘From time immemorial,’ the habitual measuring stick in defending customary rights, is a notion almost unfathomable to the modern file sharer or rights holder (who, let us not forget, can be one and the same). That we are indebted to an older generation for rights that we in turn hold in trust until they are passed on to the next generation, and that instant gratification must be suspended and even abandoned in favor of a long-term commitment are old-fashioned attitudes on the verge of becoming archaic, especially on the Internet, where custom sometimes appears to be a misnomer for regulation, and hence worthy of only negligible attention. The commons was never an unregulated space. Its use depended on forms of conduct and customary rites, in other words, on forms of regulation. The same can be said for any the rural as well as the informational commons. Exactly how we achieve such governance in our global and networked society is a hotly contested issue, but the fact remains that we have very few, if any, institutions dedicated to the protection of the commons and our common informational resources.
One cannot fail to note that an aura of utopia surrounds the information commons. Because of intellectual property expansionism, there is a tendency to posit the commons as a Lost Eden, happily devoid of the weaknesses associated with intellectual property. It is at present something of an idealized other, the unwavering defense against the missiles launched by the blitzkrieg-inclined copyright holders, a benevolent Dr. Jekyll warding off Mr. Hyde’s hyper-aggression. Invoking the virtues of the commons becomes the Pavlovian response to the current weighted intellectual property system: it is an affirmative place. That it has arrived at such a position is not surprising, considering the polarization of argument that propels the copyright wars, but it is not without certain problems of its own. The implicit presumption that although there is plenty of outside pressure on the commons, internally bliss and consensus is problematic. Not seeing the internal lacerations, rips, and conflicts of interest contained within the commons is more than counter-productive; it is dangerous. It is never a good idea to over-romanticize. To view the commons as a free space, without any rules, regulations, or clear specifications of uses is deeply misleading. Just as problematic is to assume that commoners are philanthropic by nature, inviting every Tom, Dick, and Harry who so wishes to come join them on their commons. Xenophobia, separating ‘us’ from ‘them,’ is an element of the commons economy that displays its fair share of the parochial. Disregarding the more unsavory geopolitical realities of the information commons is to underestimate the sophistication of the power relations that underpin the openness/enclosure matrix.
We make sense of today’s commons by comparing it with yesterday’s; we know more about the specificity of information-based resources by lessons learned about how tangible resources have been and are used; we recognize the same arguments of improvement and progress that were used throughout the history of enclosure in the fencing in of symbolic space today. We look to history to understand the present.

Les Glaneurs, c’est nous

Varda’s film makes a powerful case against the consumerism of modern society, made all the more conspicuous by advanced technology. Machines that have replaced manual labor may be both swift and economical, but they also leave perfectly fine fruits and vegetables on the ground following their automated maneuvers. Heart-shaped potatoes, apples that are somehow too small or too big, grapes that are left behind on the slopes of the vineyard – even though they fail to conform to the standard size or the quality of the appellation label they are as edible and drinkable as the cookie-cutter vegetables and grapes that do make it onto the supermarket shelves. If there is any sadness in Varda’s otherwise affirmative documentary, it is perhaps when she notes that gleaning is no longer the collective and social act depicted in the Millet painting or in the other, less famous works of art she uncovers during her road trip.
Gleaning was a social activity, where you were seen and recognized by others. And rules and regulations around gleaning recur in all the regions Varda visits. Sometimes – as in the case of the Atlantic Noirmoutier oyster beds – there are as many suggestions about the number of oysters one is allowed to pick and how far away from the beds one must remain when doing so as there are people she interviews. Disagreeing on the finer points, no one questions that the use of the resource depends on elaborate rules and on respectful conduct. Varda talks to those who glean and those who make their apple orchards or potato fields available for gleaners to use. She visits the kitchen of the renowned two-star Guide Rouge chef who was taught frugality by his grandparents and never throws anything away in his restaurant. As she documents the vagrants, the unemployed, and the homeless, she never shies away from the fact that the line between gleaning and poverty is sometimes extremely fine. A necessity for some, a tradition and pleasure for others, revolt against society’s consumerism for yet another – gleaning fills many functions.
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Varda places Maître Dessaud in a cabbage field, as if, tongue-in-cheek, putting the law where it belongs. Clad in his formal black robe and clutching his red ‘Bible,’ the French Code Pénal, Maître Dessaud explains that once the harvest is over, one can glean the cabbages around him ‘with absolute impunity.’ Cabbages seem very different from cultural expressions, perhaps, but as Varda very perceptively notes as she moves from the cabbage field to the snippets of cultural expressions she picks up with the help of her small handheld camera: ‘La Glaneuse, c’est moi.’ How very true. Les glaneurs, c’est nous.

A Brief History of the Alter-Globalization Movement

by Geoffrey Pleyers & translated by John Zvesper , 20 June
Activists supporting alter-globalization recently met in Tunis for this year’s World Social Forum. This is a good point from which to look back over the history of the alter-globalization movement, from the 1990s to 2013.

The 2013 World Social Form gathered some 30.000 activists in Tunis, March 26th-30th. Although the number of participants was well short of the records set by the recent Forums held in Brazil (170,000 people in 2005, and 130,000 in 2009), attracting tens of thousands of Tunisian and international activists shows that the WSFs remain appealing events in various regions of the world. The 2013 Forum aimed to encourage exchanges between progressive citizens from every continent and progressive activists involved in the Arab spring.

The 1990s: The Formation of a Worldwide Movement

The short history of the alter-globalization movement can be divided into four periods. The first one, in the mid-1990s, reflected a proliferation of local and national protests against neoliberal policies, in every region of the world. During this period the movement was essentially organized, on the one hand, around international campaigns (such as the one against third world debt), and networks and meetings of intellectual activists, NGOs and counter-summits ; and on the other hand, on the basis of massive popular protests at the local and national levels, as in the “water wars” in Bolivia, and farmers’ protests all over Asia. They all denounced the growing influence of the World Trade Organization, the burden of third world debt, and the power of the multinationals. Small farmers movements were particularly active. In 1993, they founded the global network Via Campesina, which today boasts 200 million members across the world. Indigenous movements, anti-privatization campaigns (notably in South Africa), the World March of Women, progressive intellectual networks, libertarian activists, young “alter-activists”, and NGO’s all contributed to the rise of a lively and diverse movement.
The emergence of this global movement highlighted and brought together a number of local and national struggles which up to then had been seen as isolated, and had been inconspicuous in the outside world. Activist intellectuals from North and South played a fundamental role at this stage; they turned the attention of public opinion to the damage inflicted by neoliberal policies, developed arguments against the Washington Consensus, and increased the number of international meetings. They set up networks that have played a fundamental role in the movement, such as ATTAC, Global Trade Watch, the Transnational Institute, Focus on the Global South, and Jubilee South. This period also featured the proliferation of “counter-summits” around the edges of the big meetings of international organizations. The alter-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999 and the collapse of the WTO summit there had great symbolic significance, and reflected the central message of alternative globalization: “ordinary citizens” can have an impact even at the highest level of international decision making.

2001-2005: Social Forums Become the Heart of the Movement

These actors all came together at the first World Social Forum at Porto Alegre (Brazil) in January 2001, marking the beginning of a new phase. Over the next five years, hundreds of social forums were organized at the local, national, continental and global levels. In contrast to the counter-summits with their central focus on opposition to one particular international organization, these Social Forums are geared up to encouraging exchanges among activists from different parts of the world about the alternatives that they are implementing. The first European Social Forum, in Florence (2002: uniting 50,000 people) and the World Social Forums in Mumbai (2004: 120,000 people) and Porto Alegre (2005: 170,000 people) are some of the greatest success stories of alternative globalization, both in terms of the popular mobilization and the exchanges created on various themes, and in terms of organization, which was more open and horizontal than in previous versions of the social forums .
In spite of predictions made by many intellectuals, the alter-globalization movement did not decline after September 11th 2001; in fact, in the years since then it has had its greatest popular successes, and has had a significant impact on public opinion and the media. Between 2002 and 2004, opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was a major component of the movement. For example, the European and World Social Forums launched the initiative for the global protest that united between ten and twenty million people on February 15th 2003. It was in this period that progressive governments were coming to power in Latin America, many of whom attended the World Social Forums as candidates and then as elected presidents. Even some right-wing politicians and representatives of the World Bank wanted to join the WSF.

2006-2010: A New Geography

After 2005, the audiences and outcomes of most alter-globalization meetings have considerably diminished. While they demonstrated the movement’s ability to expand geographically and to include Africa, the “polycentric” World Social Forums of 2006 (held in Bamako, Caracas and Karachi) and the Forums of 2009 (Nairobi) and 2011 (Dakar) were all disappointing. There was a significant decline in the number of participants (between 15,000 and 50,000 for each), and the inclusion of popular organizations often met more complications. It was also in this period that some networks that had been very active either disappeared (like Barcelona’s “Movimiento de Resistencia Global”, which disbanded) or encountered internal problems that they never completely recovered from (e.g. ATTAC in France and the Wombles in the UK).
Paradoxically, the alter-globalization movement seemed to be facing difficulties at the very time when neoliberal ideology was more frequently being questioned. However, during this time the movement was successful in at least three ways: geographical extension into regions considered to be symbolic or strategic (Africa, the United States, and the Arab world), convergences on environmental issues, and delegitimization of the Washington Consensus.
Firstly, Social Forum dynamics has extended into regions deemed to be symbolic or strategic. Three World Social Forums and dozens of continental or national forums have taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fifteen thousand mainly working-class activists participated in each of the United States Social Forums (at Atlanta in 2007 and at Detroit in 2010), in which the main discussions focused on racism, domestic workers, migrants, the right to the city, and movements concerned with food issues. But it is in the Arab world that social forums have especially proliferated. For example, no fewer than seven international forums were organized there in October and November 2010. Moreover, the participation of 130,000 people in the World Social Forum at Belém in 2009 has shown the undeniable success of the alter-globalization movement in Latin America, where a number of progressive regimes remain in power.
That Forum in Amazonia (in Belém) also illustrated the growing importance of environmental issues in the movement. In December that same year, alter-globalization supporters and ecologists were drawn together to the UN Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen, and in March 2010 the “World People’s Summit on Climate Change” united 25,000 people from 147 countries in Cochabamba, Bolivia, illustrating the contribution of indigenous people to the movement .
The economic and financial crisis that began in 2007 delegitimized neoliberal ideology. A series of negotiations for trade liberalization at the WTO were failures: Seattle (1999), Cancun (2003), Hong Kong (2005) and Geneva (2008). Latin American governments buried the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas during the continental summit of 2005, and set up a “Bank of the South” to replace the World Bank in the region. The first meetings of the G20 in 2008 targeted tax havens, and even Nicolas Sarkozy stated that “the ideology of market dictatorship and the impotence of governments died with the financial crisis.” Alter-globalization perspectives seemed to be confirmed by the crisis, and their discourse had a new resonance. However, a few years later, the tax havens are still active, the IMF budget has tripled, and since 2010, traders’ bonuses have set new records. The return of the state to save the banking sector was followed by austerity policies. Though ideologically discredited, the neoliberal “zombie” continues to guide economic policies, thus reminding alternativists that, no matter how deep the crisis is, it does not in itself create societal change. Such change depends on the abilities of social actors to give it meaning, to raise the questions presented by the historical situation, and to put forward alternative political visions and economic logics. The actors in the alter-globalization movement were not up to this, until a new generation of activists appeared, to get the debate onto the front pages of the financial press.

Since 2011: A New Generation

Between 2005 and 2010, the region with the largest number of international social forums was the Arab world . In 2011 a global wave of movements came out of this region, denouncing austerity policies and reminding us that it was not the excesses of the welfare state but those of finance that caused the crisis. Going beyond the economic crisis, outraged, “indignant” protesters and “Occupy” movements have denounced the crisis of democracy. They have risen up against the absence of choice offered by the major parties in representative democracies, the inequalities, and the collusion between the richest “1%” and the politicians. For these protesters and the Occupy activists, democracy is not just a claim, it is also and above all a practice. The heart of their camps and little local assemblies was experimentation with direct democracy, participative and horizontal, in debates and in the processes and the organization of daily life.
These camps were highly publicized, but also sporadic. However, they constitute only the tip of the iceberg. Confronting the crisis, thousands of citizen initiatives against austerity policies are developing ways to overcome the structural limits of representative democracy, especially in Europe. Rapidly expanding alternative and local food networks are converging with other solidarity economy initiatives. Networks of committed experts try to influence certain European policies, and pursue the long task of educating people about complex issues. Demonstrations against austerity are increasing in Europe, but although the movements have been coordinated at the continental or global level for a decade, demonstrations against austerity do continue but they remain mostly organized at the national level.
by Geoffrey Pleyers & translated by John Zvesper , 20 June