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A critique of the Just Net Coalition’s defense of intergovernmental internet governance

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th January 2015


The P2P Foundation recently joined an intiative that we understood as an ‘alterglobal’ alternative to internet governance.

We were not aware that his coalition seems to support a purely inter-governmental governance of the internet, as we would indeed favour multi-stakeholder governance. The rest of the article focuses on personal matters, which are more difficult to judge.

Here is an excerpt from a critique of the JNC from IGFWatch news :

“The positioning of the Just Net Coalition against multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and in favour of a state-centric model, although now quite overt, became evident gradually. The Delhi Declaration covers this obliquely, stating “The right to make Internet-related public policies lies exclusively with those who legitimately and directly represent people” (ie. states). Another coded phrase the JNC has used to call for the centralisation of Internet governance authority in states is its call for “legitimate political authority”.

A turning point came at the meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation on Public Policy Issues Pertaining to the Internet (WGEC) of the UN Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in April 2014. To the surprise of other civil society and technical community delegates at that meeting, Parminder Jeet Singh insisted that support for paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda be retained in working group’s report, as the representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran also forcefully argued. Up until then, indeed for an unbroken decade, opposition to paragraph 35 had been a unanimous civil society position.

Paragraph 35 states (my emphasis):

– “We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations.

In this respect it is recognized that:

* Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.

* The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.

* Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.

* Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.

* International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.”

In supporting this paragraph that constricts civil society’s role in Internet governance, Parminder said:

I have clarity about what is the role of different stakeholders being quite different to one another and I don’t appreciate that non-governmental actors would have the same role in decision-making than governmental actors. That should not be acceptable at a global level.

This, translated into JNC policy and the agenda for its Internet Social Forum, marks a profound shift away from the decentralised and horizontal model of Internet governance that civil society had heretofore supported, towards an hierarchical, state-led model.

For a time, JNC attempted to explain away this change by drawing a straw man distinction between “democratic multi-stakeholderism” (which JNC supports) and “equal footing multi-stakeholderism” (which it doesn’t, mischaracterising it as “governance by self-selected elites”). But it has since mostly abandoned that pretense and become more overt in promoting an intergovernmental model of Internet governance, stating for example in a more recent statement, “We invite all countries to call for a Framework Convention on the Internet and to take up leadership in developing global Internet-related policies,” and averring that “[w]ithout governmental support, it is difficult, perhaps impossible to combat the dominance of global Internet monopolies”.

Now, I have argued elsewhere why governments ought not to have a monopoly on the development of Internet-related public policies, and why a model of multi-stakeholderism that includes governments as a key, but not dominant stakeholder can still be counted as democratic. You can accept those arguments or not. If you don’t, then you might come down on JNC’s side on this issue, and that would be perfectly legitimate.”

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Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Jules Peck Introduces the Real Economy Lab

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
30th January 2015


By Jules Peck

Cloud

Recently Transition’s co-Founder Rob Hopkins responded to a critique of the Transition movement by Ted Trainer. Trainer’s critique was much discussed at the annual Degrowth Congress in Leipzig which I have blogged about already.  Trainer’s critique suggested that there is little more to the Transition Towns movement than community gardens. Naturally anyone who knows much about Transition will know that’s just not the case. And Rob has made a very good response to this already many times.

In this blog I want to share with readers an exciting piece of new work that Transition Network is part of and which illustrates just one way in which it this global movement is grappling with really complex big issues relating to the future of economics and the whole way we produce and consume, live and work.

The Real Economy Lab is a new collective enquiry and movement building initiative. The Lab is being led by myself working closely with Peter Lipman, Chairman of Transition Network, Tony Greenham, a Transition Network Trustee and the Head of Business and Finance at Nef (the New Economics Foundation) and Alice Martin of Nef. Its supported financially by the Swiss Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer/FPH and Nef.

The Lab responds to the context in which our current economic system is patently failing to work for the wellbeing of people and planet. It’s an economic system intent and reliant on exponential growth on a finite planet and on the concentration of power and resources into the hands of the few.

But the alternative future is already (partly) here, emerging in pockets of light around the world. Aside from nearly 500  Transition initiatives worldwide, there is a vast and increasing array of practitioning and thinking around what is being called the ‘new economy.’ As Professor Gar Alperovitz, a leading thinker and practitioner in this area, has recently said “just below the surface of media attention literally thousands of grass roots institution-changing, wealth-democratizing efforts have been quietly developing.”

This includes movements as diverse as the many members of the Post Growth Alliance and New Economy Coalition, and the P2Pcommonermakersharerbuen vivircollaborative economicsocial solidaritydirect action,  localisation  and co-operative movements and numerous others. All of these groupings themselves include many individual initiatives or what we are calling ‘tribes’. And many are being supported by enlightened local government initiatives like those of Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson in his support for things like Bristol Pound – an exciting initiative that Transition Bristol have helped create and nurture.

This ecosystem also includes numerous academic groups working up radically alternative ways of running our economies active in areas such as Economic Democracy, Associational Democracy and Pluralist Commonwealth thinking.

So what’s the problem the Real Economy Lab seeks to respond to? Well, despite all this great work going on around the world, it’s hard to see how this plethora of work fits together into a broader ecosystem, let alone a coherent progressive force pulling in the same direction.  How do the ‘tribes’ within this ecosystem relate to each other? How does the practitioning link or not link to various schools of thinking about how a new economy could function?

Without such an understanding its perhaps no surprise that there is little in the way of a concerted progressive movement working together to create to new economy. There is a feeling that if we could all point in the same direction we might be able to do what the shock doctrine regressives did so successfully in ensuring neoliberalism succeeded for so long.

In this context, the Real Economy Lab is focused on helping emerging global movements working towards the development of a new economics to connect the dots and help to ensure that their impact can be greater than the sum of their parts.

Our first, and current task is to create a mind-map of the international new economy ecosystem. We see this ecosystem made up of many ‘tribes’ that sit within a series of meta categories. Transition would be just one of these many tribes.

Through desk research and a wide international consultation we’re developing an information database and taxonomy to act as the basis of a mind-mapping of the international new economy ecosystem to understand what various tribes are doing and planning, why and how.

We’ve identified a number of meta-categories within each of which sit hundreds of separate, though sometimes connected, ‘tribes’. These categories are:

  1. Cutting edge civil society – work and movements exploring new economy responses to limits to growth;
  2. The seeds of change – movements and experiments with alternative ways of living and working which are actively responding to the challenges of focus in category I.;
  3. Local or national governmental support for the new economy;
  4. Direct action for the new economy;
  5. Alternative citizen democracy movements;
  6. Academic thinking on alternative economic paradigms;
  7. Mainstream voices breaking from the pack and questioning accepted orthodoxies on economics;
  8. Mainstream NGO and think tanks.

Based on our research and consultation we are building a database that will map for each tribe things like their:

  • Position on key new economy principles such as Environmental sustainability, Scale and urgency of change needed, Wellbeing maximization – rather than growth and wealth, Equality, Justice, Participation and solidarity, Economic democracy, Sharing, Resilience, Common cause intrinsic values, Sufficiency over efficiency, Appropriate scale and subsidiarity),
  • Organization type (NGO, sector focused, grassroots etc),
  • Outcomes sought (policy, watchdog, advocacy, grassroots change etc),
  • Mode of change (incremental, transformative, stepping stone etc),
  • Relation to power,
  • Profit or not for profit or hybrid motives,
  • Geography,
  • Links to others in new economy ecosystem,
  • Position on growth, capitalism and alternative economic models (such as market or non market socialism, economic democracy etc)

Based on this taxonomy and database and utilizing tagging and qualitative research software to create diagrams of relationships between concepts, themes and ideas, the resulting mind-map will provide a detailed and highly interactive online platform which we hope will be of great use to these tribes in formulating their strategies and collaborations.

Imagine an evolving multi-dimensional map of ideas, principles, practices, and locations of everything going on in the ‘new economy’ world. Imagine being able to user-generate idea-maps relevant to your own inquiries. Or being able to see where tribes stand on a set of core principles for the new economy.

These idea-maps might suggest areas where more emphasis or a change of direction might be needed by tribes or networks. And anyone will be able to interrogate the mind-map to see linkages, gaps in practice or thinking, differences of opinion, opportunities for collaborations, requirements for funding or other resources and much much more.

The mind-map will serve as an interactive, iterative and evolving tool for this new economy ecosystem.  It will seek to establish clarity and consensus on key principles and objectives for the new economy that can act as a foundation for the convergence of action. And it will highlight ways the various tribes might work together and will serve as the foundation for networking and collaboration towards the development of a convergence-alliance for the new economy.

Phase I of building the initial mind-map will end in May 2015, after a detailed consultation with leading international thinkers and practitioners in the new economy starting in February. Phase II, the launch of the mind-map platform, will planned for September 2015.  Phase III, networking and collaborating with tribes to start the process of developing a convergence-alliance, will be concurrent with phase II and ongoing through 2015 and beyond.

We hope you will want to get involved in the Lab and would be delighted to hear from Transitioners and non-Transitioners on the issues above. Please contact jules on jules@flourishingenterprise.org

Jules Peck has had a life-long passion for heterodox economics and undertaken extensive work in this area with think-tanks and others. As well as being convenor of the Real Economy Lab, Jules is also a founding partner at strategy consultancy Jericho Chambers, a Trustee of the think-tank Nef, a member of the Advisory Board of Sir Richard Branson’s B Team, an Associate of The Futures Company, a Practitioner of Happiness Works, a Director of the Happy City movement and a member of the Transition Towns training and consulting strategy group. 

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Posted in Activism, Featured Movement | No Comments »

Journal of Peer Production Issue 6: Disruption and the Law

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
29th January 2015


Artists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice, (statue on the Old Bailey, London)

The latest edition of the Journal of Peer Production is now out.

The disruption caused by new technologies and non-conventional methods of organisation – from a Western perspective at least – have posed challenges for the law, confronting regulators with the need to balance justice and an appreciation of new realities with powerful interests and existing paradigms. Experience from the “disruptions” of the late twentieth century has shown that the response from incumbent industries can lead to a period of intense litigation and lobbying for laws that will maintain the status quo. For example, following its “Napster moment”, the music industry fought to maintain its grip on distribution channels through increased copyright enforcement and the longer copyright terms it managed to extract from the legislative process. The newspaper industry has similarly seen its historical revenue stream of classified ads disrupted by more efficient online listings, and responded to its own failure to capitalise on online advertising by launching legal campaigns against Google News in various European countries.

Though the law as it stands may not be well-equipped to deal with disruptive episodes, the technological innovations of the last twenty years have created an environment that generates disruption. The Internet, the Web and networked personal computers have converged into the ubiquitous post-PC media device, leaving twentieth century paradigms of production, consumption and distribution, particularly in the Western world, under considerable threat. The latest technology to be added to this group of disruptive innovations may be 3D printing, which in recent times has become increasingly available and accessible to users in developed economies, whilst the manufacturing capacity of 3D printers has dramatically grown. Although current offerings on the market are far from a Star Trek-like “replicator”, the spectre of disruption has once again arrived with the prospect of 3D printed guns inspiring a moral panic and raising questions of gun control, regulation, jurisdiction and effective control. In addition, 3D printing raises a number of issues regarding intellectual property, going far beyond the copyright problems that file-sharing brought about due to its production of physical objects.

It is against this backdrop that we present this special issue of the Journal of Peer Production, comprising six peer-reviewed papers and one discussion paper covering an array of diverse issues implicated by the emergence of new production and distribution technologies, associated peer practices and tensions with legal and de facto regulatory frameworks.

Table of Contents

Editorial Section

Edited by Angela Daly (Swinburne University of Technology and European University Institute) and Steve Collins (Macquarie University)

Editorial Note: Playing catchup? How the law encounters disruptive peer production [html]

Peer Reviewed Papers

Peer production and changing norms in music practice: An ethnomusicological perspective

by Denis Crowdy [html]

Expanding the Internet Commons: The Subversive Potential of Wireless Community Networks

by Primavera De Filippi and Félix Tréguer [html]

Peer-to-peer as a design principle for law: distribute the law

by Melanie Dulong de Rosnay [html]

Manufacturing imaginaries: Neo-Nazis, Men’s Rights Activists and 3D Printing

by Robbie Fordyce [html]

Cultures of sharing in 3D printing: what can we learn from the licence choices of Thingiverse users?

by Jarkko Moilanen, Angela Daly, Ramon Lobato and Darcy Allen [html]

Regulating the Liberator: Prospects for the Regulation of 3D Printing

by Isaac Record, ginger coons, Dan Southwick and Matt Ratto [html]

Essays

Disrupting the cab: Uber, ridesharing and the taxi industry

by Moira McGregor, Barry Brown and Mareike Glöss [html]

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Posted in P2P Legal Dev., P2P Theory, Peer Production, Theory | No Comments »

Is a Methane Disaster Awaiting Us?

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
29th January 2015


Today, the atmosphere contains 5 Gt methane. An estimate estimates that around 50 gigatonnes of methane might be about to be released in the Arctic, ie, a tenfold increase. Several thousand Gt is stored in the Arctic permafrost, in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf alone lies the 500 – 5000 Gt methane.

Methane is by releasing more than 150 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, after 20 years 86 times stronger on average, and after 100 years 23 times stronger. This is because it turns into H2O and CO2.

Man is a product of fire, this now seems to become our tragedy. Meanwhile the Sunday open stores are being debated in Norway, obviously a bad thing and a forcing of consumerism, yet evidence of human short time horizon.

Geoengineering can not help us, it is far more sensible to store carbon in the soil. It is 5-6 times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere and vegetation combined. Here biochar (terra preta) play an important role.

Biochar may be in the soil for several hundred thousand years, and some of it can be stored for millions of years. This as long as one does not use chemical fertilizers, which destroys micro life in the soil. Microorganisms stabilizes carbon.

However, one can drench biochar in urine, after which the nitrogen is released slowly into the soil because it binds in the litter. In the urine can also be found 80 percent of the nitrogen, 50 percent of the phosphorus and 60 percent of potassium (NPK) from the food we eat. Urinary Sort toilets should be introduced in conjunction with a major focus on biochar.

At the same time soil erosion needs to be stopped!

Related:

  • Arctic and American Methane in Context (Shakhova et al (2013) did not find or claim to have found a 50 Gt C reservoir of methane ready to erupt in a few years. That claim, which is the basis of the Whiteman et al (2013) $60 trillion Arctic methane bomb paper, remains as unsubstantiated as ever. The Siberian Arctic, and the Americans, each emit a few percent of global emissions. Significant, but not bombs, more like large firecrackers.)

I would be grateful for more articles on biochar and arctic methane. Please add these in the comment field.

Appendix:

Gail Tverberg, one of the world’s best analysts and the “doomsday prophets own Miss Marple”, has responded to the article:

Let’s stop talking about climate change. If financial collapse brings down the economy, hardly any of us are going to be around to observe it, assuming it happens. The earth’s ecosystems will recover from climate change; it is human civilization that likely won’t–but human civilization has huge other challenges, as I keep pointing out.

 

Climate change models haven’t built financial collapse into them, so the story they are telling is seriously distorted. Climate change is popular from a political point of view, because it takes peoples eyes off of our (other) close at hand problems. It is popular with scientists, because it generates huge funding for studying this subject, whether or not we can do anything about it. The one thing we can do that is likely to impact the course of climate change is to collapse the economy, and that seems to be happening already.

It appears that Tverberg believes the climate models are worthless, since they have not included an economic collapse that must come. Tverberg seems optimistic about the biosphere, but this as a consequence of her pessimism on civilization’s behalf. Again, Tverberg is a mathematician and undoubtedly good at statistics and analysis.

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Posted in P2P Ecology, P2P Science, Videos | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Free Software and the Law

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th January 2015


* Article: Free software and the law. Out of the frying pan and into the fire: how shaking up intellectual property suits competition just fine. By Angela Daly. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 3, July 2013

From the Abstract:

“Free software is viewed as a revolutionary and subversive practice, and in particular has dealt a strong blow to the traditional conception of intellectual property law (although in its current form could be considered a ‘hack’ of IP rights). However, other (capitalist) areas of law have been swift to embrace free software, or at least incorporate it into its own tenets. One area in particular is that of competition (antitrust) law, which itself has long been in theoretical conflict with intellectual property, due to the restriction on competition inherent in the grant of ‘monopoly’ rights by copyrights, patents and trademarks. This contribution will examine how competition law has approached free software by examining instances in which courts have had to deal with such initiatives, for instance in the Oracle Sun Systems merger, and the implications that these decisions have on free software initiatives. The presence or absence of corporate involvement in initiatives will be an important factor in this investigation, with it being posited that true instances of ‘commons-based peer production’ can still subvert the capitalist system, including perplexing its laws beyond intellectual property.”

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Posted in Copyright/IP, Featured Essay, Free Software, P2P Legal Dev. | No Comments »

The opportunity in Greece

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th January 2015


The Greek people must be thanked for putting the need for changing the course of economic policies firmly on the European agenda. The stakes are high. A failure in Greece will be seen as vindication of austerity as the only option. It will have negative repercussions for any progressive alternative throughout Europe. Those convinced that Europe needs to change cannot sit on the fence, but need to engage in support of the new winds of reform.

A text by Maria Helena dos Santos André, Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities and a former Minister of Labour of Portugal

“In a time when in Paris Marine Le Pen is “Ante Portas”, when xenophobic populists are marching through the streets of Dresden, when in London the UKIP sets the tone for an ever more Anti-European hysteria, and when in Helsinki the Finnish government becomes the most ardent proponent of more austerity for Greece, for no other reason but the fear of a success of the “real Finns” at the next ballot box, the Greek people have given a clear signal, voting against more austerity and for the European values of democracy, the welfare state, tolerance and inclusive societies.

They have rejected the ruling by European and international technocrats. They have said no to their national oligarchic establishment that has led the country to the current situation. But they also resisted the Siren calls of Golden Dawn. They have given their confidence to an untested party, with no experience in government, a party that has presented an electoral programme proposing better governance, more democracy, greater social justice and an end of austerity policies that have destroyed the economy and created unprecedented hardship while the public debt (and the private one) continued to increase. The Greek voters have sent a clear message to the rest of Europe: they want to be part of Europe, they can’t bear more austerity; they need a sustainable solution to their debt problem; they want to be a respected partner in the European Union and play an active role in the common search for a Greek and European recovery.

Europe should not see the victory of Syriza as a threat. Instead, it should be seen as a clear signal from the people and as an opportunity for Europe as a whole to reconsider its crisis response, which has already lead the continent into what may become a decade of deflationary stagnation, even with the last intervention of the ECB. There is no easy solution to the deep crisis in Europe but one thing is certain: to continue with policies that do not work, because they concentrate exclusively on fiscal prudence, is the opposite of what must be done, in giving priority to growth, investment, employment and redistributive policies.

Anyone guided by realism will recognise that Greece cannot at the same time serve its tremendous debt burden and recover economically and socially. Insisting on servicing the debt, without a strong economic recovery might be popular in some European capitals but it will just not work. Debts that cannot be paid remain un-payable even if creditors continue to insist that it should be paid.

The debt crises in Germany in the last century offer great lessons in this respect. After World War I, the victorious powers insisted that Germany should pay reparations independently of its economic performance. The results are well known: Hyperinflation in the twenties, brutal austerity in the early thirties resulting in the rise of Hitler who immediately stopped servicing any foreign debt when he came to power. After World War II, the Allies recognised that Germany had to become prosperous first and should pay afterwards. That reasoning lies behind one of the most generous debt restructuring agreements in history in 1953, when more than 50 % of the German debt was written off, repayment was stretched out over more than half a century and debt payments were made conditional on the existence of a trade surplus. The last payment of debt from World War I was actually made as late as in 2010 and payments at no time exceeded 5% of German export earnings.

In many European countries the public debate on the debt crisis is also framed in moral terms. Many claim that Greece had cheated when entering the Eurozone, that they are free-riding on hard-working Northern Europeans, that they need to be taught a lesson in order to learn financial responsibility, etc. The judgements should not be about “Crime and Punishment” but about economic viability and a better future. If debt restructuring had been guided by any moral reasoning in 1953 it would have certainly been extremely difficult to make the case for German debt relief. But it was economically, politically and socially the right thing to do and it paid off not only for Germany but for Europe as a whole.

Greece’s 317 billion Euro debt today is in absolute terms 13 billion less than five years ago but due to the economic collapse it nevertheless rose from 113 to 175 % of GDP. Any assumption that this debt can be served without growth is illusionary. This must be recognised by all those interested in a solution and be the realistic starting point for renegotiating the debt.

As long as capitalism exists there has not been a boom that did not end in a crisis and not a crisis that wasn’t followed by a recovery. Policies should reduce the severity of the crisis and increase the speed of the recovery. Austerity has failed on both accounts but nevertheless it looks that, by a number of indicators, the crisis in Greece has finally bottomed out and, with the right policies of debt restructuring and of productive public investment, there is a reasonable chance for a strong recovery. Bringing down unemployment and increasing revenues has to be a priority over debt repayment. The required economic growth will not come from any rapid rise in private sector investment as long as the risk of unsustainable debt and default remains. Therefore the solution to the Greek problem should start with a solution to the debt situation, a strong public investment programme leading to the creation of more and better jobs. Researchers from the Levy Economics Institute in New York who, in cooperation with the Labour Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, regularly publish a strategic analysis of the Greek economy have calculated the economic impact of a moderate public investment programme of 6.6 billion Euro per annum funded by the EU complimented by a debt moratorium until the country returns to the real GDP level of 2010. While this would certainly not solve Greece’s problems over night, it would set Greece on a much higher growth path than continuing the current policies.

Debt restructuring and public investment alone will not solve the Greek problem but there will be no solution without it. Improving the public administration, creating an efficient and fair tax system, fighting corruption, curtailing oligarchic power, rationalising pension systems, improving access to credit, improving the functioning of education, health and social protection systems and creating the conditions for job creation are some of the important elements in a comprehensive recovery strategy. However, some of these structural changes take time and have more long-term effects, while others can boost recovery more quickly. A government of new faces is better positioned to implement such a programme. These structural reforms have bigger chances of success if done in parallel with economic recovery, job creation and growth and not during a continued depression.

New faces have also a better chance to re-energize the society and to put an end to vested interests that so far remain largely untouched. Strengthening institutions, including those that are responsible for social dialogue and collective bargaining, and improving the participation of citizens are essential for (re)-building trust in the state and political decision making. The mistake of dismantling the industrial relations and collective bargaining system must be quickly and seriously addressed in order to achieve better labour market conditions, more quality and equality in employment and a fairer income distribution.

The challenges Greece is facing are more extreme than in any other European country but they are not unique. Throughout southern Europe the policies of fiscal austerity, no public investment and wage repression have led to a deflationary stagnation with unacceptable levels of unemployment and an increase in inequalities. Pumping billions of Euros at close to zero interest rates into the private banking sector has failed to trigger private real investment and has not reached the real economy. It was more successful in raising asset prices than employment levels. As millions of people are unemployed and many governments can borrow at historically low interest rates, the case for large scale investment in public infrastructure and networks, in education, research and development at a European level is compelling.

European and international institutions have argued for six years that there is no alternative to austerity and that the Greek people will pay dearly if they abandon the policy prescription of the Troika. In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, the Greek people decided that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and put more trust into an alternative, sometimes expressing contradictory ideas, rather than to continue with the trotted path of failure. They have raised expectations and deserve the credit of the doubt and the support from those interested in a change of policies in Europe.

The Greek people must be thanked for putting the need for changing the course of economic policies firmly on the European agenda. The stakes are high. A failure in Greece will be seen as vindication of austerity as the only option. It will have negative repercussions for any progressive alternative throughout Europe. Those convinced that Europe needs to change cannot sit on the fence, but need to engage in support of the new winds of reform.”

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Posted in Economy and Business, P2P Labor, Politics | No Comments »

Commoners in Transition: Janice Figueiredo

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
27th January 2015


Reposted from our new Commons Transition web platform “Commoners in Transition” features exclusive global-P2P oriented interviews with people working on similar subjects, worldwide.


Our News and Articles section features interviews and articles involving Commoners in Transition, or, individuals and teams working together towards increasing the viability of the commons. Here, we present an interview with Janice Figueiredo, who was part of the FLOKSociety project launched in Ecuador. Janice spoke to us about her own experience collaborating with and learning from the indigenous people of the region.

Street

What is your background, and how did you get involved in the project in Ecuador?

I am a Brazilian citizen who has lived abroad for about 20 years, both in the United States and in Europe (Paris, France). I worked at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) as IT project manager until 2009, when I decided to radically change my life and started placing my actions, work and studies in areas that, in my understanding, have the potential to genuinely transform the world into a more inclusive and fairer place. I directed my interests to researching the fields of collective intelligence, collaborative movements, P2P dynamics, the commons, the open and sharing society, social business, complementary currencies, sustainable development and poverty reduction, having a particular interest in exploring alternative models to the conventional economic paradigms based in centralization and scarcity.

I spent most of 2012 in Brazil, and got actively involved with several P2P-related projects in Rio de Janeiro, where I currently live. I joined academic research groups on the Collaborative Economy and Peer Production in Brazil, carried out collaborative projects in Rio’s favelas, took part in civil society and social movement initiatives that proposed commons-oriented alternatives for the planet (such as the People’s Summit), and got involved with different projects related to the sharing economy in Brazil.

I have a B. Sc. in Computer Science, a M. Sc. in Strategy and Marketing, and have completed post-graduate courses in the area of Sustainable Development.

In September 2013, Michel Bauwens – who I first met in Brazil in July 2012, on the occasion of the Rio+20 UN meeting – invited me to be part of the research team that would be producing public policy recommendations for a transition to a Social Knowledge Economy in Ecuador. I immediately accepted the invitation!

Workshop

You visited a lot of urban commons communities in Quito. What is your summary of their experiences and concerns ?

My research area, “Open infra-structures for collective life”, explored how citizens and communities could benefit from as well as take an active part in the building of a Social Knowledge Economy. On the one hand, we investigated how communities could, in an autonomous way, create and maintain mutualized infrastructures needed for their lives, such as housing and food systems. On the other hand, we explored how knowledge systems could be created and governed by communities.

The principles of solidarity and cooperation are deeply rooted in the Ecuadorian culture. Several community needs are achieved through autonomous practices whose origins come from the traditions of the Indigenous quechuas. The most well-known of these initiatives are mingas. These are community works towards common goals that have been extensively used in both urban and rural areas to supply the needs of the communities, such as improvement of roads or communal areas, and energy provision, and also as a means to cooperate among families, such as in the case of the building of a house. La minga de la quiteñidad, a yearly community-led event held in some Quito neighbourhoods, chose to promote recycling in one area (December 2014).

Through mingas the main values of the Andean indigenous culture are expressed: union and solidarity among communities. Mingas are seen as a huge celebrations where work, food, collaboration and accomplishments are shared. Ranti-ranti is another solidarity practice intrinsic to the Ecuadorian culture. It represents the concept of reciprocity and abundance: “I give to you because Nature has given to me”. Trueque is a practice of exchange used at open food markets, where sellers exchange what hasn’t been sold among themselves. Randimpa are open spaces self-organized by communities, where discussions and decisions about the community take place.

We visited several initiatives that follow the principles of self-governance that develop and nurture cooperation within their communities. I will mention two of them: the first, “Comuna Tola Chica” represents a group of 400 people that live and work in a communal manner. The community tries to preserve its cultural roots through the development of local projects, such as the School of Traditional Knowledge, and to stimulate ecological and sustainable local projects like the building of a local communal house made with super-adobe construction. All decisions concerning the Comuna are taken in a collective, participatory way, through assemblies open to all residents. Land ownership is communal and all comuneros have the same rights over the lands.

A second project that illustrates cooperation is “Alianza Solidaria”. This project was launched to tackle the lack of access to quality and affordable housing, and was expanded to the building of an autonomous, cooperative community capable of solving their own problems in a cooperative way.

One of the main concerns I’ve noticed among communities is that these principles of solidarity and cooperation are being lost; there are far fewer mingas now than in the 1970’s.

Several individuals suggested that people have become more individualistic and competitive as a result of being influenced by the values promoted by capitalism; people engage less and less with traditional solidarity practices. Another concern observed is that newer indigenous generations no longer want to learn quechua, dress using their traditional customs or preserve their culture, as the media propagates the idea that what comes from the Western world (Europe and the United States) is better and represents the values of a more developed people.

Silchos

You also worked with indigenous communities and coordinated a policy paper that was written by indigenous activist scholars themselves. What were the results, and how was the paper received ?

At FLOK meetings conducted during the process, the subject of “Ancestral Knowledge” was the one that raised the greatest interest and the most questions from the communities and academia.

Among the 17 policy papers, the “Ancestral, Traditional and Popular Knowledge” paper was the only one written by a group composed exclusively of local, Ecuadorian people. That paper discusses and proposes policies on how to preserve, manage and implement traditional and ancestral knowledge and practices, respecting the diversity of cultures and nationalities of Ecuador.

Ecuador has a total of 14 nationalities and 18 pueblos, and it was quite a challengeto embrace such a diversity of visions and traditions in a single paper. Initially, we engaged 5 indigenous scholars and activists from different ethnicities, each one deeply involved with the subject within their communities, to collectively write a first version of the paper. Later on, we realized the paper should also contemplate non-indigenous visions, such as those of the Afro-Ecuadorian community.

The current version of the paper is the product of a collective work developed by indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, mestizo and white Ecuadorian scholars and activists. This composition of multiple visions, all from local actors, gives a unique strength to the paper and its policy recommendations.

The policy paper presents proposals for the management of ancestral, traditional and popular knowledge in five main domains: 1) ancestral, traditional and popular knowledge must be declared heritage of the communities and peoples; 2) intercultural, bilingual education must be promoted and strengthened; 3) promotion of proper management of knowledge about biodiversity and traditional and ancestral agricultural practices; 4) strengthening of the relationship between the territories and knowledge and 5) strengthening of traditional and ancestral practices of governance.

What is your overall view of the FLOK process and what are your expectations for the future?

FLOK is a pioneer project, as this is the first time in history that a series of policy documents was produced in a collaborative way to propose, at a national level, a transition to a new economic and societal model based on open and shared knowledge, on the commons, on traditional and ancestral practices and on peer-to-peer production. Producing these documents in such a short time (8 months) was a big challenge. The work represents an integrated view, framed within the Ecuadorian legal system, and resulted from an intense collaborative process that involved meetings with Ecuadorian experts from civil society, academia, government and constant exchange with international experts in each area.

I see this first FLOK experience both as a seed that has been planted, as well as a threshold that has been crossed: a first attempt to provide an alternative model to the capitalist system has been proposed, and this work – not only the document, but the entire process that allowed the production of the documents – can be a source of inspiration to any person, city, civil society collective, region, and can be replicated, modified and adapted according to different contexts and needs. A threshold has been crossed in the sense that an integral proposition has been done for an entire society.

Needless to say, it was a very rewarding experience to be part of the project.

For the future, I expect the commons-transition movement to grow and to strengthen. And that different initiatives, with different flavors, will start to sprout. In the past year, many people showed a lot of interest in the FLOK process – not only during the time we were in Ecuador, but afterwards as well. The world needs profound changes; this is no longer an option, but a necessity. The human being is intrinsically generous and solidary – every culture has solidarity practices that became more and more lost with the individualistic and competitive behavior modeled by capitalism. A commons-transition movement is a real possibility to rescue human cooperation and solidarity and a path to reach harmony with Nature.

Team

Images by Kevin Flanagan

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The graph that everyone should see: the p2p revolution is real and exponential

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th January 2015


It is not always easy to objectify the reality of the p2p transition.

On the cultural front, we can point to the change in attitudes documented by the Edelman Peer Trust Barometer, which between the years 2003 and 2007 saw a radical shift from trust in institutions to trust in ‘people like me’.

On the economic level, we can cite the Fair Use report, which calculates that already one sixth of U.S. GDP activities relied on shared knowledge, i.e. fair use exceptions to copyright law, involving an estimated 17 million workers.

What is happening objectively in the civic sphere is harder to determine, but here is a very interesting graph from commons researcher Tine de Moor in a study entitled “Homo Cooperans”, which only counts formal civic initiatives, so not even counting the informal communities that are at the heart of peer production itself. It basically shows the start and exponential rise of civic initiatives starting about ten years ago in 2004, a deceleration in 2008 due to the shock of the crisis, and a new exponential update shortly after.

These and other data are cited in an article by Dutch transition researcher Jan Rotmans, who stresses that these initiatives are emphatically not a result of governmental stimulation, but have been created outside that sphere.

Grafiek-De-Moor

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A political assessment of the (post-) 2011 horizontal movements

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


after 2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously — and not just in a Hegelian sense. Secondly, the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power. We have understood the question of power for too long in an excessively negative manner. Now we can reinterpret the question of power in terms of multitudes, in terms of absolute democracy — that is to say, in terms of a democracy that goes beyond canonical institutional forms such as monarchy, aristocracy and “democracy.” I believe that today the problem of democracy is best formulated and addressed in terms of the multitude

The ROAR magazine interview of Toni Negri was taken by Lorenzo Cini and Jerome Roos, with special thanks to Tommaso Giordani for the translation.

Excerpts:

* In recent years, there appears to be somewhat of a convergence between your approach and Harvey’s. What do you consider to be the most important overlaps in your work? And what do you see as the main differences or tensions?

It seems to me that there is a very clear and explicit convergence between Harvey’s positions and those of my own current of thought, most clearly on the contemporary transformation of productive labor, of living labor — that is, of labor capable of generating surplus value. If I may use Marx’s language from The Fragment on Machines, I would say that there is substantial common ground between Harvey’s work and my own in the analysis of the transformation of the forms of value, that is to say, in the step from value as connected to the structures of large-scale industry to the current situation, in which society is wholly subjected to the logic of capital — not only in the productive sphere, but also with regards to reproduction and circulation.

Italian workerism [operaismo] already developed such an analysis in the late 1970s, suggesting, at the time, new forms of struggle that would deploy themselves within the larger social sphere, because we had understood that the social had become a locus of value production. Already in those years, we identified the crucial shift in the locus of surplus production: a shift away from the factory and towards the wider metropolis. And this same shift appears to me to have become central to Harvey’s work. This is the essential point: from here, both the question of surplus extraction and the question of the transformation of profit into rent have become central in the critical analyses of contemporary capitalism that Harvey and I have developed.

What, then, are the differences? I believe it’s simply a question of genealogy, of the theoretical trajectory that has brought us to this shared analysis. I have reached these conclusions starting from the analysis of the transformation of the nature of labor, which is, in fact, the concept on which the entire workerist approach was based. In other words, I began from the workerist concept of the refusal of labor. With this idea, we meant two things. On the one hand, we took it as a rejection of the law of value as the fundamental norm of the capitalist order. On the other hand, we interpreted it in a more constructive way, as a call for the acknowledgment of new forms of productivity of work beyond the factory, at a wider social level. From this Marxian analysis of the internal transformation of labor, we arrived at the same conclusions at which Harvey arrived — and on which he developed a more thorough empirical analysis.

* Starting from what you just said about the concept of productive labor, we would like to reflect with you on the forms and content of contemporary struggles. In your book Commonwealth, co-authored with Michael Hardt, you have written that today the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory was once to the working class. In light of this change of paradigm, does it seem accurate to you to identify in the recent uprisings that have erupted in countries like Brazil and Turkey a set of struggles linked to questions about the production and reproduction of metropolitan life, instances of a new class struggle conducted at the metropolitan level?

Yes, very much so. Both the Turkish and the Brazilian struggles are clearly biopolitical struggles. How, then, can we link this biopolitical dimension to the new forms of labor we discussed before? This is a question with which Michael Hardt and I have been dealing ever since 1995, when we began working on Empire. It appeared to us that if labor becomes social labor, if production and capitalist oppression were swallowing up the social sphere, then the question of bios became an essential one. The set of struggles developing around the welfare state was becoming one of the central aspects of class struggle. This discovery became even more important once we understood that productive labor was not only (or even mainly) a material activity, but also (and mostly) an immaterial one. That is, an activity linked to caring, affection, communication, and what we can loosely call ‘generically human’ processes and activities.

It was this attention to the ‘generically human’ that helped us understand how the productive process had become fundamentally a biopolitical process. Consequently, the more politically significant struggles became those that deployed themselves on the biopolitical terrain. What did this mean in more concrete terms? We did not have an exhaustive and final answer. Yes, we had some intuition that one had to fight against, for example, the privatization of healthcare and education, but at the time we did not manage to fully grasp what was later revealed to us by the formidable struggles of 2011. It was those struggles that revealed the full articulation of the biopolitical discourse, that is, the new character of contemporary struggles. And it becomes very clear that the metropolis is its essential setting. This does not mean that it will always be so, but today it is certain that the metropolis is the crucial locus of this struggle.

The metropolitan strike in Paris in 1995 was essential in making me understand this. A city as complex and articulated as Paris completely supported the struggle, which blocked the city in its entirety, starting from transportation. That struggle expressed in a paradigmatic sense the cooperative and affective elements of the forms of conflict and knowledge that were emerging on the metropolitan stage in those years. It is not a coincidence that these aspects, linked to cooperation and to affective production, are still central in contemporary metropolitan struggles, which are fully biopolitical struggles.

* The cycle of struggles that began in 2011 briefly hinted at the possible birth of a new constituent process. Today it seems that many of these movements are confronted with what you and Michael Hardt have called a ‘thermidorian closure,’ bringing about the re-establishment of the old regime. What is your analysis of the current state of these struggles, and what could have been done differently to prevent the present outcome?

To start with, we need to establish some differences. The Spanish mobilization, for example, has a force and a degree of political originality that is still evident today, and constitutes an important phenomenon that must also be seen as partly emerging from the tormented history of Spain in the twentieth century, from the civil war, through the incomplete democratic transition, to the failure of the Socialist Party.

On the other hand, there is a much more ambiguous phenomenon such as Occupy, which appears to be a mobilization of the so-called middle classes more than an expression of the cognitive working class. And yet, beyond these obvious weaknesses, even Occupy displayed an important degree of originality, especially in terms of the struggle developed on the issue of debt and financial capital.

* Let’s discuss the struggles in Europe today. Taking our cue from an article you wrote together with Sandro Mezzadra just before the European elections of 2014, and a follow-up piece you just published ahead of the Greek elections, we wanted to ask you whether you see the European dimension as the only one in which the movements can possibly act to advance a project of the common as a genuine alternative to the present capitalist crisis.

This is certainly the most timely and important political question today. Currently, in Europe, we are in the lowest phase of the cycle of struggles. I do not believe in the theory that, the worse the political, social and economic situation, the stronger the revolutionary movement. We are faced with a serious economic crisis that has had extremely negative consequences. The capitalist establishment has, for the moment, successfully exploited the regression and the domestication of existing struggles, and has managed with ease to control the post-Fordist productive transformation that hailed the defeat of the Fordist mass worker. Today, we are experiencing the consequences of our defeat in the 1970s, in the absence of a political organization capable of expressing the interests of the contemporary workforce and, more generally, of the contemporary productive society that emerged from that process of capitalist transformation.

However, in this negative situation, we still have to carefully consider if and how capital will be able to overcome the crisis. For example, I tend to agree with Wolfgang Streeck’s analyses, which examine the current crisis in the light of some 1970s literature such as that by Offe, Hirsche, and O’Connor, who saw the crisis of the times as a consequence of the falling rate of profit. This fall, however, is intimately linked to the devaluation of the workforce, to the incapacity of considering the workforce as a central player in development.

It is necessary to be very careful on a number of points. When one says that some instances of the common, certain demands of the struggle for the common can be, and have been, reabsorbed by and into the “management crisis” and into all those mechanisms of management of the common, one often ignores that this absorption into capitalist management is not a creative one. It is not, for example, akin to the assimilation of the working class that occurred in the Fordist and Keynesian paradigm, when this absorption did generate a rise in demand and manifested itself in a strong and energetic economy.

Today, we are faced by a capitalist contraction that leaves even those who operate the contraction breathless. In this context, we have to be extremely attentive, because the very real risk is that of giving a completely pessimistic reading to a situation that, of course, is characterized by an important crisis — but whose outcome is still completely open.

* With this last question we would like to reflect with you on the innovation represented by a number of political phenomena that are occurring in some European countries at the moment. Do you see, in Europe today, a political organization capable of starting a constituent process and creating a transnational political project based on the communism of the 21st century — that is, a political project based on the practice of the common? And what do you consider to be the significance, in this light, of new political forces like Syriza and Podemos?

Before answering your question, I must confess that I have developed a problem in recent years. If I am asked to assess the struggles of 2011, I can’t help but concentrate my critical remarks on the question of horizontality — or of exclusive horizontality, at least. I have to criticize it because I think that there is no project or political development capable of transforming horizontal spontaneity into an institutional reality. I think, instead, that this passage must be governed in some way or another. Governed from below, of course, on the basis of shared programs, but always bearing in mind the necessity of having, in this passage, an organized political force capable of constituting itself and of managing this transformation.

I think that the present state of the movement forces us to be self-critical about what happened in 2011, and I think this self-criticism must focus on the question of political organization. We need to acknowledge, for example, that the Lista Tsipras experiment in Italy has been a tragic failure, even if I, together with Sandro Mezzadra and other comrades, welcomed it with faith and hope. However, on the other hand, it should have been clear, from the beginning, that with organized parties such as SEL or Rifondazione Comunista it would have been impossible to find political forms capable of channeling and allowing spontaneous forces from below to affirm themselves.

With Podemos, however, we are probably dealing with something different. Beyond the questionable ideologies around which Podemos constituted itself, I believe that — maybe because of the goodwill of its leaders, or perhaps thanks to the situation in which it finds itself — Podemos is infinitely more powerful than it is organized. It is producing, for the moment, an extremely interesting and active movement that might be capable of contributing to a healthy institutionalization of the struggles.

On this question of struggle at the institutional level and of political organization, I would like to conclude with two more general propositions. The first one is that after 2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously — and not just in a Hegelian sense. Secondly, the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power. We have understood the question of power for too long in an excessively negative manner. Now we can reinterpret the question of power in terms of multitudes, in terms of absolute democracy — that is to say, in terms of a democracy that goes beyond canonical institutional forms such as monarchy, aristocracy and “democracy.” I believe that today the problem of democracy is best formulated and addressed in terms of the multitude.”

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Essay of the Day: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


* Report: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States Contexts. World Bank, 2014

From the Summary:

““[The report serves] as a primer on crowdsourcing as an information resource for development, crisis response, and post-conflict recovery, with a specific focus on governance in fragile states. Inherent in the theoretical approach is that broader, unencumbered participation in governance is an objectively positive and democratic aim, and that governments’ accountability to its citizens can be increased and poor-performance corrected, through openness and empowerment of citizens. Whether for tracking aid flows, reporting on poor government performance, or helping to organize grassroots movements, crowdsourcing has potential to change the reality of civic participation in many developing countries. The objective of this paper is to outline the theoretical justifications, key features and governance structures of crowdsourcing systems, and examine several cases in which crowdsourcing has been applied to complex issues in the developing world.”

Patrick Meier discusses the findings:

“The research is grounded in the philosophy of Open-Source Governance, “which advocates an intellectual link between the principles of open-source and open-content movements, and basic democratic principles.” The report argues that “open-source governance theoretically provides more direct means to affect change than do periodic elections,” for example. According to the authors of the study, “crowdsourcing is increasingly seen as a core mechanism of a new systemic approach of governance to address the highly complex, globally interconnected and dynamic challenges of climate change, poverty, armed conflict, and other crises, in view of the frequent failures of traditional mechanisms of democracy and international diplomacy with respect to fragile state contexts.
That said, how exactly is crowdsourcing supposed to improve governance? The authors argues that “in general, ‘transparency breeds self-correcting behavior’ among all types of actors, since neither governments nor businesses or individuals want to be caught at doing something embarrassing and or illegal.” Furthermore, “since crowdsourcing is in its very essence based on universal participation, it is supporting the empowerment of people. Thus, in a pure democracy or in a status of anarchy or civil war (Haiti after the earthquake, or Libya since February 2011), there are few external limitations to its use, which is the reason why most examples are from democracies and situations of crisis.” On the other hand, an authoritarian regime will “tend to oppose and interfere with crowdsourcing, perceiving broad-based participation and citizen empowerment as threats to its very existence.”
So how can crowdsourcing improve governance in an authoritarian state? “Depending on the level of citizen-participation in a given state,” the authors argue that “crowdsourcing can potentially support governments’ and/or civil society’s efforts in informing, consulting, and collaborating, leading to empowerment of citizens, and encouraging decentralization and democrati-zation. By providing the means to localize, visualize, and publish complex, aggregated data, e.g. on a multi-layer map, and the increasing speed of genera-ting and sharing data up to real-time delivery, citizens and beneficiaries of government and donors become empowered to provide feedback and even become information providers in their own right.”

According to the study, this transformation can take place in three ways:

1) By sharing, debating and contributing to publicly available government, donor and other major actors’ databases, data can be distributed directly through customized web and mobile applications and made accessible and meaningful to citizens.

2) By providing independent platforms for ‘like-minded people’ to connect and collaborate, builds potential for the emergence of massive, internationally connected grassroots movements.

3) By establishing platforms that aggregate and compare data provided by the official actors such as governments, donors, and companies with crowdsourced primary data and feedback.

“The tracking of data by citizens increases transparency as well as pressure for better social accountability. Greater effectiveness of state and non-state actors can be achieved by using crowdsourced data and deliberations* to inform the provision of their services. While the increasing volume of data generated as well as the speed of transactions can be attractive even to fragile-state governments, the feature of citizen empowerment is often considered as serious threat (Sudan, Egypt, Syria,Venezuela etc.).” *The authors argue that this need to be done through “web-based deliberation platforms (e.g. DiscourseDB) that apply argumentative frameworks for issue-based argument instead of simple polling.”

The second part of the report includes a section on Crisis Mapping in which two real-world case studies are featured: the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map & Mission4636 and the Libya Crisis Map. Other case studies include the UN’s Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA) initiative in the Sudan, Participatory GIS and Community Forestry in Nepal; Election Monitoring in Guinea; Huduma and Open Data in Kenya; Avaaz and other emergent applications of crowd-sourcing for economic development and good governance. The third and final part of the study provides recommendations for donors on how to apply crowd-sourcing and interactive mapping for socio-economic recovery and development in fragile states.”

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