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John Michael Greer on intermediation and the end of the market economy

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
16th December 2014


France, Château de Beynac Window

Extracted from his blog, John Michael Greer talks about the historical role of intermediation in both thriving and declining economies. This extract forms part of larger series of posts entitled “Dark Age America”


One of the factors that makes it difficult to think through the economic consequences of the end of the industrial age is that we’ve all grown up in a world where every form of economic activity has been channeled through certain familiar forms for so long that very few people remember that things could be any other way. Another of the factors that make the same effort of thinking difficult is that the conventional economic thought of our time has invested immense effort and oceans of verbiage into obscuring the fact that things could be any other way.

Those are formidable obstacles. We’re going to have to confront them, though, because one of the core features of the decline and fall of civilizations is that most of the habits of everyday life that are standard practice when civilizations are at zenith get chucked promptly into the recycle bin as decline picks up speed. That’s true across the whole spectrum of cultural phenomena, and it’s especially true of economics, for a reason discussed in last week’s post: the economic institutions and habits of a civilization in full flower are too complex for the same civilization to support once it’s gone to seed.

The institutions and habits that contemporary industrial civilization uses to structure its economic life comprise that tangled realm of supposedly voluntary exchanges we call “the market.” Back when the United States was still contending with the Soviet Union for global hegemony, that almost always got rephrased as “the free market;” the adjective still gets some use among ideologues, but by and large it’s dropped out of use elsewhere. This is a good thing, at least from the perspective of honest speaking, because the “free” market is of course nothing of the kind. It’s unfree in at least two crucial senses: first, in that it’s compulsory; second, in that it’s expensive.

“The law in its majestic equality,” Anatole France once noted drolly, “forbids rich and poor alike to urinate in public, sleep under bridges, or beg for bread.” In much the same sense, no one is actually forced to participate in the market economy in the modern industrial world. Those who want to abstain are perfectly free to go looking for some other way to keep themselves fed, clothed, housed, and supplied with the other necessities of life, and the fact that every option outside of the market has been hedged around with impenetrable legal prohibitions if it hasn’t simply been annihilated by legal fiat or brute force is just one of those minor details that make life so interesting.

Historically speaking, there are a vast number of ways to handle exchanges of goods and services between people. In modern industrial societies, on the other hand, outside of the occasional vestige of an older tradition here and there, there’s only one. Exchanging some form of labor for money, on whatever terms an employer chooses to offer, and then exchanging money for goods and services, on whatever terms the seller chooses to offer, is the only game in town. There’s nothing free about either exchange, other than the aforesaid freedom to starve in the gutter. The further up you go in the social hierarchy, to be sure, the less burdensome the conditions on the exchanges generally turn out to be—here as elsewhere, privilege has its advantages—but unless you happen to have inherited wealth or can find some other way to parasitize the market economy without having to sell your own labor, you’re going to participate if you like to eat.

Your participation in the market, furthermore, doesn’t come cheap. Every exchange you make, whether it’s selling your labor or buying goods and services with the proceeds, takes place within a system that has been subjected to the process of intermediation discussed in last week’s post. Thus, in most cases, you can’t simply sell your labor directly to individuals who want to buy it or its products; instead, you are expected to sell your labor to an employer, who then sells it or its product to others, gives you part of the proceeds, and pockets the rest. Plenty of other people are lined up for their share of the value of your labor: bankers, landlords, government officials, and the list goes on. When you go to exchange money for goods and services, the same principle applies; how much of the value of your labor you get to keep for your own purposes varies from case to case, but it’s always less than the whole sum, and sometimes a great deal less.

Karl Marx performed a valuable service to political economy by pointing out these facts and giving them the stress they deserve, in the teeth of savage opposition from the cheerleaders of the status quo who, then as now, dominated economic thought. His proposed solution to the pervasive problems of the (un)free market was another matter. Like most of his generation of European intellectuals, Marx was dazzled by the swamp-gas luminescence of Hegelian philosophy, and followed Hegel’s verbose and vaporous trail into a morass of circular reasoning and false prophecy from which few of his remaining followers have yet managed to extract themselves.

It’s from Hegel that Marx got the enticing but mistaken notion that history consists of a sequence of stages that move in a predetermined direction toward some as-perfect-as-possible state: the same idea, please note, that Francis Fukuyama used to justify his risible vision of the first Bush administration as the glorious fulfillment of human history. (To borrow a bit of old-fashioned European political jargon, there are right-Hegelians and left-Hegelians; Fukuyama was an example of the former, Marx of the latter.) I’ll leave such claims and the theories founded on them to the true believers, alongside such equally plausible claims as the Singularity, the Rapture, and the lemonade oceans of Charles Fourier; what history itself shows is something rather different.

What history shows, as already noted, is that the complex systems that emerge during the heyday of a civilization are inevitably scrapped on the way back down. Market economies are among those complex systems. Not all civilizations have market economies—some develop other ways to handle the complicated process of allocating goods and services in a society with many different social classes and occupational specialties—but those that do set up market economies inevitably load them with as many intermediaries as the overall complexity of their economies can support.

It’s when decline sets in and maintaining the existing level of complexity becomes a problem that the trouble begins. Under some conditions, intermediation can benefit the productive economy, but in a complex economy, more and more of the intermediation over time amounts to finding ways to game the system, profiting off economic activity without actually providing any benefit to anyone else.  A complex society at or after its zenith thus typically ends up with a huge burden of unproductive economic activity supported by an increasingly fragile foundation of productive activity.

All the intermediaries, the parasitic as well as the productive, expect to be maintained in the style to which they’re accustomed, and since they typically have more wealth and influence than the producers and consumers who support them, they can usually stop moves to block their access to the feed trough. Economic contraction, however, makes it hard to support business as usual on the shrinking supply of real wealth. The intermediaries thus end up competing with the actual producers and consumers of goods and services, and since the intermediaries typically have the support of governments and institutional forms, more often than not it’s the intermediaries who win that competition.

It’s not at all hard to see that process at work; all it takes is a stroll down the main street of the old red brick mill town where I live, or any of thousands of other towns and cities in today’s America. Here in Cumberland, there are empty storefronts all through downtown, and empty buildings well suited to any other kind of economic activity you care to name there and elsewhere in town. There are plenty of people who want to work, wage and benefit expectations are modest, and there are plenty of goods and services that people would buy if they had the chance. Yet the storefronts stay empty, the workers stay unemployed, the goods and services remain unavailable. Why?

The reason is intermediation. Start a business in this town, or anywhere else in America, and the intermediaries all come running to line up in front of you with their hands out. Local, state, and federal bureaucrats all want their cut; so do the bankers, the landlords, the construction firms, and so on down the long list of businesses that feed on other businesses, and can’t be dispensed with because this or that law or regulation requires them to be paid their share. The resulting burden is far too large for most businesses to meet. Thus businesses don’t get started, and those that do start up generally go under in short order. It’s the same problem faced by every parasite that becomes too successful: it kills the host on which its own survival depends.

That’s the usual outcome when a heavily intermediated market economy slams face first into the hard realities of decline. Theoretically, it would be possible to respond to the resulting crisis by forcing  disintermediation, and thus salvaging the market economy. Practically, that’s usually not an option, because the disintermediation requires dragging a great many influential economic and political sectors away from their accustomed feeding trough. Far more often than not, declining societies with heavily intermediated market economies respond to the crisis just described by trying to force the buyers and sellers of goods and services to participate in the market even at the cost of their own economic survival, so that some semblance of business as usual can proceed.

Read the full text here.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Politics | No Comments »

The Techno-Leviathan as the Technocratic Politics of the Bitcoin Ledger

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
4th December 2014


You do not escape the world of big corporates and big government by wishing for a trustless set of technologies that collectively resemble a technocratic crypto-sovereign. Rather, you use technology as a tool within ongoing political battles, and you maintain an ongoing critical outlook towards it. The concept of the decentralised blockchain is powerful. The cold, distrustful edge of cypherpunk, though, is only empowering when it is firmly in the service of creative warm-blooded human communities situated in the physical world of dirt and grime. Perhaps this means de-emphasising the focus on how blockchains can be used to store digital assets or property, and focusing rather on those without assets.

This article (excerpt) by Brett Scott which appeared in Furtherfield may well be the most important article written this year about p2p trends and more specifically about the huge potential implications of the bitcoin cryptoledger. Today, technological design and protocals are a vital area of social and political struggle.

I’ve said it before: ‘what fascism is to the state, propertarian anarcho-capitalism is to the market’. It’s a dangerous political vision that aims for a trustless techno-cratic society and institutions centered around those who have property. This is NOT the vision of the mutualist p2p commons vision, which aims to create trustfull human communities based on liberty, sustainability and equity.

Read Brett Scott’s key analysis of the underlying political vision that lay behind much of the enthusiasm around decentralized autonomous organisations:

Brett Scott:

“When asked about why Bitcoin is superior to other currencies, proponents often point to its ‘trustless’ nature. No trust needs be placed in fallible ‘governments and corporations’. Rather, a self-sustaining system can be created by individuals following a set of rules that are set apart from human frailties or intervention. Such a system is assumed to be fairer by allowing people to win out against those powers who can abuse rules.

The vision thus is not one of bands of people getting together into mutualistic self-help groups. Rather, it is one of individuals acting as autonomous agents, operating via the hardcoded rules with other autonomous agents, thereby avoiding those who seek to harm their interests.

Note the underlying dim view of human nature. While anarchist philosophers often imagine alternative governance systems based on mutualistic community foundations, the ‘empowerment’ here does not stem from building community ties. Rather it is imagined to come from retreating from trust and taking refuge in a defensive individualism mediated via mathematical contractual law.

It carries a certain disdain for human imperfection, particularly the imperfection of those in power, but by implication the imperfection of everyone in society. We need to be protected from ourselves by vesting power in lines of code that execute automatically. If only we can lift currency away from manipulation from the Federal Reserve. If only we can lift Wikipedia away from the corruptible Wikimedia Foundation.

Activists traditionally revel in hot-blooded asymmetric battles of interest (such as that between StrikeDebt! and the banks), implicitly holding an underlying faith in the redeemability of human-run institutions. The Bitcoin community, on the other hand, often seems attracted to a detached anti-politics, one in which action is reduced to the binary options of Buy In or Buy Out of the coded alternative. It echoes consumer notions of the world, where one ‘expresses’ oneself not via debate or negotiation, but by choosing one product over another. We’re leaving Earth for Mars. Join if you want.
It all forms an odd, tense amalgam between visions of exuberant risk-taking freedom and visions of risk-averse anti-social paranoia. This ambiguity is not unique to cryptocurrency (see, for example, this excellent parody of the trustless society), but in the case of Bitcoin, it is perhaps best exemplified by the narrative offered by Cody Wilson in Dark Wallet’s crowdfunding video. “Bitcoin is what they fear it is, a way to leave… to make a choice. There’s a system approaching perfection, just in time for our disappearance, so, let there be dark”.

But where exactly is this perfect system Wilson is disappearing to?

Back in the days of roving bands of nomadic people, the political option of ‘exit’ was a reality. If a ruler was oppressive, you could actually pack up and take to the desert in a caravan. The bizarre thing about the concept of ‘exit to the internet’ is that the internet is a technology premised on massive state and corporate investment in physical infrastructure, fibre optic cables laid under seabeds, mass production of computers from low-wage workers in the East, and mass affluence in Western nations. If you are in the position to be having dreams of technological escape, you are probably not in a position to be exiting mainstream society. You are mainstream society.

Don’t get me wrong. Wilson is a subtle and interesting thinker, and it is undoubtedly unfair to suggest that he really believes that one can escape the power dynamics of the messy real world by finding salvation in a kind of internet Matrix. What he is really trying to do is to invoke one side of the crypto-anarchist mantra of ‘privacy for the weak, but transparency for the powerful’.

That is a healthy radical impulse, but the conservative element kicks in when the assumption is made that somehow privacy alone is what enables social empowerment. That is when it turns into an individualistic ‘just leave me alone’ impulse fixated with negative liberty. Despite the rugged frontier appeal of the concept, the presumption that empowerment simply means being left alone to pursue your individual interests is essentially an ideology of the already-empowered, not the vulnerable.

This is the same tension you find in the closely related cypherpunk movement. It is often pitched as a radical empowerment movement, but as Richard Boase notes, it is “a world full of acronyms and codes, impenetrable to all but the most cynical, distrustful, and political of minds.” Indeed, crypto-geekery offers nothing like an escape from power dynamics. One merely escapes to a different set of rules, not one controlled by ‘politicians’, but one in the hands of programmers and those in control of computing power.

It is only when we think in these terms that we start to see Bitcoin not as a realm ‘lacking the rules imposed by the state’, but as a realm imposing its own rules. It offers a form of protection, but guarantees nothing like ‘empowerment’ or ‘escape’.

Technology often seems silent and inert, a world of ‘apolitical’ objects. We are thus prone to being blind to the power dynamics built into our use of it. For example, isn’t email just a useful tool? Actually, it is highly questionable whether one can ‘choose’ whether to use email or not. Sure, I can choose between Gmail or Hotmail, but email’s widespread uptake creates network effects that mean opting out becomes less of an option over time. This is where the concept of becoming ‘enslaved to technology’ emerges from. If you do not buy into it, you will be marginalised, and thatis political.

This is important. While individual instances of blockchain technology can clearly be useful, as a class of technologies designed to mediate human affairs, they contain a latent potential for encouraging technocracy. When disassociated from the programmers who design them, trustless blockchains floating above human affairs contains the specter of rule by algorithms. It is a vision (probably accidently) captured by Ethereum’s Joseph Lubin when he says “There will be ways to manipulate people to make bad decisions, but there won’t be ways to manipulate the system itself”.

Interestingly, it is a similar abstraction to that made by Hobbes. In his Leviathan, self-regarding people realise that it is in their interests to exchange part of their freedom for security of self and property, and thereby enter into a contract with aSovereign, a deified personage that sets out societal rules of engagement. The definition of this Sovereign has been softened over time – along with the fiction that you actually contract to it – but it underpins modern expectations that the government should guarantee property rights.

Conservative libertarians hold tight to the belief that, if only hard property rights and clear contracting rules are put in place, optimal systems spontaneously emerge. They are not actually that far from Hobbes in this regard, but their irritation with Hobbes’ vision is that it relies on politicians who, being actual people, do not act like a detached contractual Sovereign should, but rather attempt to meddle, make things better, or steal. Don’t decentralised blockchains offer the ultimate prospect of protected property rights with clear rules, but without the political interference?
This is essentially the vision of the internet techno-leviathan, a deified crypto-sovereign whose rules we can contract to. The rules being contracted to are a series of algorithms, step by step procedures for calculations which can only be overridden with great difficulty. Perhaps, at the outset, this represents, à la Rousseau, the general will of those who take part in the contractual network, but the key point is that if you get locked into a contract on that system, there is no breaking out of it.

This, of course, appeals to those who believe that powerful institutions operate primarily by breaching property rights and contracts. Who really believes that though? For much of modern history, the key issue with powerful institutions has not been their willingness to break contracts. It has been their willingness to use seemingly unbreakable contracts to exert power. Contracts, in essence, resemble algorithms, coded expressions of what outcomes should happen under different circumstances. On average, they are written by technocrats and, on average, they reflect the interests of elite classes.
That is why liberation movements always seek to break contracts set in place by old regimes, whether it be peasant movements refusing to honour debt contracts to landlords, or the DRC challenging legacy mining concessions held by multinational companies, or SMEs contesting the terms of swap contracts written by Barclays lawyers. Political liberation is as much about contesting contracts as it is about enforcing them.”

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Posted in Anti-P2P, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Movements, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Ukraine Opens To Monsanto And Large-Scale Land-Grabs

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
10th November 2014


By Pål Steigan. Original article here.

Ukraine’s black earth belt may probably have the most fertile soil on our planet. Ukraine has been called the» bread basket of Europe», and international agribusiness is drooling over the chance to get hold of it. The combination of an economic catastrophe and the corrupt regime in Kiev provides a golden opportunity for Monsanto, GMO to carry out large-scale land-grabs.

(Translated from the Norwegian by Tanja Barth)

EU Porosjenko

The scramble for natural resources – Among other things, the conflict in Ukraine concerns natural resources. These include uranium and other minerals, and especially Ukraine’s fertile soil. The country has been the world’s third largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. The Ukrainian «black soil» forms a thick layer and is rich in nutrients. It is difficult to find land that can be more easily farmed. Global cooperations are looking to control it. This struggle is nothing new. More than 1.6 million hectares (nearly as much as the area of the state of New Jersey) have already been sold to foreign agro-business. The largest contracts have been handed to companies based in Luxemburg, Cyprus (perhaps as a cover for Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs) and in France. China signed an agreement to buy more than 3 million hectares (30 000 square kilometers) in 2013 (equivalent to the size of Belgium, comprising 5 % of all of the fertile soil in Ukraine), but at present there are doubts whether this deal will be finalized. (Please read Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe.)

The oligarchs see the agricultural sector as yet another source of profits, and they are the people that have taken control of most of the resources. The richest man in Ukraine, Rinat Achmetov, owns a large section of land. The same goes for Oleg Bachmatjuk, one of the world’s largest producers of eggs. His company is registered in Cyprus. Some of the largest foreign land owners are US NCH Capital (400,000 ha) and Russian Ukrainian Agrarian Investments (260,000 ha). (Please read Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe.)

Drastic reforms facilitating foreign agro-business taking control – With the US’s preferred crew installed in Kiev, the road now is open for international agro-business. So far, laws and regulations have been an obstacle for companies like Monsanto, but under heavy pressure from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Washington’s «advisers», the extreme right-wing regime in Kiev will soon have changed all this. A case in point is the Ukrainian law that didn’t allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but in the association agreement with the EU there now is a section stating that both parties should «cooperate in extending the application of biotechnology». This section will be used to implement GMOs.

According to Michael Cox, research director at the investment bank Piper Jaffray: «Ukraine, and in the wider perspective Eastern Europe, are among the most promising growing markets for producers of agricultural machinery like John Deere and seed producers like Monsanto and DuPont

For several years now, the World Bank has insisted that Ukraine must facilitate international investment in the agricultural sector. In 2013, Ukraine was selected to be one of ten countries to be especially closely followed in their Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture project. The deregulation of the seed and fertilizer markets are central for this agenda. New loans from the World Bank and the IMF are linked to requirements that Ukraine implement reforms to facilitate the acquisition of land by foreign owners, and that they reduce taxes on such investments and reduce the frequency of inspections. (!) In May of 2014, the World Bank granted a loan of 1.5 billion dollars which is partly intended for the implementation of wide-ranging reforms in the agricultural sector. Regarding these reforms, the bank itself states that

«…some of the social effects will be difficult to quantify. In the short term, the adjustments…can have negative social consequences for income and employment and create a shock that can affect the poor».

In Kiev, the international agro-business and financial capitalists now are dealing with a government that is not overly concerned with the negative social impact resulting from its policies. In May 2014, Jim Yong Kim from the World Bank praised Yatsenyuk’s government as

«…dedicated to conducting wide-ranging reforms in cooperation with the World Bank».

On May 27th 2014, the New York Times revealed the truth about the IMF credit:

“Western interests insist on changes and big multi-national companies have expressed their interest in the Ukrainian agricultural sector.”

The newspaper revealed that reforms in the agricultural sector is a prerequisite for the 17 billion dollar credit, and that the IMF aimed at

«…increasing the investor confidence in Ukraine by removing bureaucracy and inefficiency».

J.P. Sottile, in his article Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch has described how the American multi-national corporations, in particular, have participated in the support for and encouragement of the coup in Kiev in February 2014. The article specifically mentions the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council. The executive council of this body looks like a list of Who’s Who in American agro-business, oil- and weapons industry: John Deere, Monsanto, Chevron, Westinghouse, Chevron, DuPont and Cargill.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, P2P Ecology, Peer Property | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The Black Box Society

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hartsellml
5th November 2014


* Book: Frank Pascuale. The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information.

URL = http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674368279

 

Description

‘Every day, corporations are connecting the dots about our personal behavior—silently scrutinizing clues left behind by our work habits and Internet use. The data compiled and portraits created are incredibly detailed, to the point of being invasive. But who connects the dots about what firms are doing with this information? The Black Box Society argues that we all need to be able to do so—and to set limits on how big data affects our lives.

Hidden algorithms can make (or ruin) reputations, decide the destiny of entrepreneurs, or even devastate an entire economy. Shrouded in secrecy and complexity, decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms were long assumed to be neutral and technical. But leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on automated judgment. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regulators may have only scratched the surface of this troubling behavior.

Frank Pasquale exposes how powerful interests abuse secrecy for profit and explains ways to rein them in. Demanding transparency is only the first step. An intelligible society would assure that key decisions of its most important firms are fair, nondiscriminatory, and open to criticism. Silicon Valley and Wall Street need to accept as much accountability as they impose on others.”

 

More Information

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Featured Book, P2P Action Items | No Comments »

Can we turn Netarchical Platforms into worker-owned businesses?

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


facebook
In answer to the question posed in the title, I don’t think we can do much to reclaim our rights as producers of content and use value in netarchical platforms. However, we can work to raise awareness on the subject and help the shift toward real P2P platforms. This is already happening right now, with Diaspora enjoying a revival in the wake of Ello’s failed promise to deliver a true alternative to Facebook. The following article was written by John Robb and originally published in Home Free America.


“We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership… We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.”

Do you contribute to Facebook, Yelp, Reddit, or sites like that?

Most of us do contribute to some sites like this and our contributions, more or less depending on our contribution, are the reason these companies are valuable.

Our contributions are the reason people come to these sites day after day, so why don’t we get a bit of ownership for our contributions?

Lots of ownership goes to the employees.  But, nobody goes to these sites for the high quality software, elegant design, or robust hosting.  Further, all of the tech they are using is the result of innovation by other people.

Most of the ownership goes to the financing.  Yet, these sites don’t cost much to run.  A pittance actually.  The cloud makes them very cheap to operate.  In fact, the amount is so small, nearly all of the money needed to launch these sites could be raised by the customers using these sites.

We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership.

We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.

There is a small glimmer of hope things might finally be changing (it’s something I tried to do back in 2010-12 and got my ass handed to me for trying to do it).

My hope is due to three things:

  1. Desire to do the right thing.  We don’t see enough of this in Silicon Valley anymore, despite the fact that all great innovations start with getting the “why” right.  Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong (formerly of Facebook) is doing the right thing.  He’s planning to make Reddit’s users into owners, depending on their contribution to the site.
  2. There’s a way to create a form of liquid ownership that doesn’t require Wall Street.  This new method is based on the bitcoin blockchain.  That technology makes it possible to issue ownership to contributors in a decentralized and trusted way.
  3. The combination of blockchain stock, Yishan’s example, and the experience of participants will set in motion a wave of change in Silicon Valley.  The message is:  if you want to build an online company, you better find a way to make your customers/contributors owners.

PS:  This is potentially a sea change in financing/ownership.  There’s much more to this.  Wall Street’s banksters should be worried.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Networks, Politics | No Comments »

Spanish lawmakers to kill CC licensing

photo of Guy James

Guy James
17th October 2014


image by argazkiak.org

image by argazkiak.org

As usual, Spanish politicians react with fear and repression when confronted with the effects of new ways of sharing information: they are preparing a new law (to go with the ones restricting crowdfunding and services like AirBnB and Uber) to tax those who wish to share information freely. The pattern appears to be: existing industry feels threatened, lobbies government, government passes legislation to hamper innovations. The individual merits of each new service can be argued but anyone who knows the way the conservative government in Madrid generally thinks and reacts, we can be pretty sure they do not understand the milieu in which they are attempting to act.



“…all Spanish newspapers are haemorrhaging readers, consistently report revenue losses to the tune of millions of euros a year and many are already technically bankrupt.”
“…The idea that law will compensate for these losses is laughable. What isn’t so funny is the chilling effect on the free dissemination of information it will have.”

Read more…

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP | 2 Comments »

Video of the Day: Bruce Sterling on Design Fiction

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Stacco Troncoso
12th October 2014


Bruce Sterling and his iBook

“[…This] is gonna kinda hurt: In the startup world, you work hard and you move fast in order to make other people rich.”

Don’t miss this outrageously inspiring video, where Bruce Sterling proceeds to break the hearts of a few thousands wannabe venture capital baiters at last year’s NEXT Berlin conference for “digital forethinkers and tech experts”.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Politics, Technology, Videos | 2 Comments »

What is the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership?

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
31st August 2014


“The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership is a trade deal between the EU and the US – and is anything but harmless. The deal boosts corporate power and endangers people and the planet.”

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Videos | No Comments »

Algorithms have consequences: What happens to #Ferguson affects what happens to Ferguson

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th August 2014


Excerpted from Zeynep Tufekci:

“No Ferguson on Facebook last night. I scrolled. Refreshed.

This morning, though, my Facebook feed is also very heavily dominated by discussion of Ferguson. Many of those posts seem to have been written last night, but I didn’t see them then. Overnight, “edgerank” –or whatever Facebook’s filtering algorithm is called now?—?seems to have bubbled them up, probably as people engaged them more.
\
But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure.

Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?

This isn’t about Facebook per se—maybe it will do a good job, maybe not—but the fact that algorithmic filtering, as a layer, controls what you see on the Internet. Net neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention, coverage and control.

Twitter was also affected by algorithmic filtering. “Ferguson” did not trend in the US on Twitter but it did trend locally. [I’ve since learned from @gilgul that that it *briefly* trended but mostly trended at localities.] So, there were fewer chances for people not already following the news to see it on their “trending” bar. Why? Almost certainly because there was already national, simmering discussion for many days and Twitter’s trending algorithm (said to be based on a method called “term frequency inverse document frequency”) rewards spikes… So, as people in localities who had not been talking a lot about Ferguson started to mention it, it trended there though the national build-up in the last five days penalized Ferguson.
Algorithms have consequences.

I’m not quite sure that without the neutral side of the Internet—the livestreams whose “packets” were fast as commercial, corporate and moneyed speech that travels on our networks, Twitter feeds which are not determined by an opaque corporate algorithms but my own choices,—we’d be having this conversation.

So, I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country.

But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

And despite a lot of dismal developments, this fight is far from over, and its enemy is cynicism and dismissal of this reality.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What happens to #Ferguson affects what happens to Ferguson.

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Media, Open Standards, P2P Rights, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
27th July 2014


Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde's prison conditions immediately

Peter Sunde

Our friend Nadia EL-Imam, from Edgeryders has alerted us to this important campaign. Please read the article below and  add your signature to the petition.


Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

I am suffering tremendously – socially, physically, as well as psychologically – by the shortcomings of [the prison,] Västervik.” ~ Peter Sunde, aka Brokep

Peter is most famous as Brokep, co-founder and spokesperson of the Pirate Bay. But his impact extends far beyond file-sharing. He also worked tirelessly to support creators through the payment system/social site, Flattr, and is bringing encrypted messaging to the masses through the app, Hemlis.

But now he is suffering in the restrictive conditions of Västervik prison, poorly suited to a non-violent offender accused only of “crimes” related to copyright infringement and fighting for a free and open internet. 

Peter requested a transfer to a lower security class prison, specifically Tygelsjö, that would be more appropriate for his situation and would also allow him to be closer to his family, hopefully making his imprisonment more bearable. But weeks later, the Swedish authorities have not made any move to accommodate his request.

Peter has also requested access to food that he can actually eat. Prisons are required by law to provide a diet that respects prisoners’ beliefs, however the prison diet at Västervik is so severely lacking in vegetarian and vegan meals that Peter has lost at least 7 kilos (~15 pounds) in just a few weeks. Healthy vegetables and plant-based meals are a very simple request, but there has been no effort to accommodate his dietary needs. Peter is clearly suffering serious physical and psychological stress because of the lack of nutrition available to him.

This is no way for the prison authorities to treat any person in their care. The excessive restrictions are especially shameful for a non-violent offender like Peter Sunde. The Swedish Ministry of Justice, which oversees the Prison and Probation services, must act immediately to lift the disgraceful conditions he is being kept in and to relieve his suffering by:

  1. Transferring him to a lower class prison and
  2. Providing sufficient nutrition for a plant-based diet.


More information, descriptions of prison conditions, and Peter’s request for transfer:
https://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/article19207648.ab (Swedish)
http://torrentfreak.com/losing-weight-pirate-bay-founder-requests-security-downgrade-140703/

And more on Peter’s other projects:
Hemlis – https://heml.is/

Flattr – https://flattr.com/

Photo Credit: Simon Klose

Click here to sign the petition

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Campaigns, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Events, Open Calls, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »