The familiar storyline of science fiction is the evil dystopia – the totalitarian society of the future in which large, faceless government agencies and corporations use sophisticated technologies to pry into every corner of our lives. The goal is to neutralize dissent and shield the exercise of power from accountability. However necessary at times, surveillance is a crude display of power, a unilateral override of the “consent of the governed.”
The point of patents for drugs is to give pharmaceutical companies a chance to recover their significant research costs, and turn a profit, before a drug enters the equivalent of the public domain. At that point, under a 1984 law that authorizes generic drug-making, any company who satisfies basic safety standards can also manufacture and sell the drug – usually at significant savings to consumers.
The biggest international gathering of people devoted to free culture will convene in Sapporo, Japan for a four-day confab, from July 29-August 1. Hosted by iCommons, the spinoff organization created by Creative Commons, the event will feature ten keynote addresses by leading figures in the commons world (including OTC’s own David Bollier).
That great, reliable engine of daily news, the Associated Press, has just given us a case study on the dangers of treating copyrighted works as “property.” The AP apparently regards its news articles as its exclusive property, and treats even partial use of them as theft.
The destruction of a commons is sometimes felt as a dramatic loss— a “no trespassing” sign posted at a popular gathering spot or the corporate takeover of an important public asset. This loss often inspires opposition, which can reverse the decision or at least raise awareness about the issue.
The New York Times Book Review’s front-page review of Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It (Bloomsbury) is full of striking nuggets of information from what people are now calling “the water wars.”
• The CEO of Quaker Oats, which markets Propel Fitness Water and Gatorade, once declared, “the biggest enemy is tap water.”
• The National Coalition of American Nuns opposes bottled water on the moral grounds that life’s essential resources should not be privatized.
Here are two resources that will be helpful to anyone tracking the latest trends in privatization. The first is a news-digest blog, PrivatizationWatch.org, a joint project of the Center for Study of Responsive Law and Essential Information in Washington, D.C. Five times a week, the site has brief summaries of the latest business attempts privatize the public’s highways, parks, schools, sports stadia, public spaces and other infrastructure.
If Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to know why fans are fleeing for other sports and baseball is no longer the national pastime, it need no look no further than the nearest mirror. Not only have ticket prices gone through the roof ($300-plus for a family of four to attend a Red Sox game), Major League Baseball acts as if it owns every fragment of the game.
On a problem as huge and frightening as climate change it’s sometimes the small stuff that really gets us thinking.
Predictions of melting polar ice caps inundating seacoast cities and blistering heat turning the Great Plains to desert boggles the mind, often leaving me dumbfounded and defeated rather than charged up about saving the earth.
Imagine what would happen if you took down road signs and traffic signals. More accidents would surely result, or at least significant confusion and slower traffic. Or would it? The surprising thing is that a number of cities around the world have actually done this, and experienced dramatic declines in traffic accidents.
In a recent interview with Enrique Peñalosa — the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, and champion of enlightened urban design — reporter Deborah Solomon elicits the insight that sidewalks are a critical design element for democracy. (New York Times Magazine, June 8, 2008) As mayor of Bogotá, Peñalosa famously banned parking on sidewalks as part of a larger effort to revive human-scale city life.
The government of Quebec is considering legislation that would establish a policy that water legally belongs collectively to the people of Quebec, the Montreal Gazette reported last week. Bill 92 would for the first time give the government the right to require permits for water use by bulk users of water (75,000 liters a day, or the equivalent of two above-ground swimming pools). It would also let the government sue companies that degrade the quality of water or alter the environment.
No democratic society worthy of the name can govern itself without transparency and information. It sounds basic, of course, but the past seven years have seen an unprecedented suppression of government information, scientific research, court documents and the rights of access to such stuff. What a pleasure to see that the tide may be turning.
To encourage students to appreciate the value of the information commons, four library associations, Students for Free Culture and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups have announced the second annual Sparky Awards, a video competition that seeks to recognize “the best new short videos on the value of sharing.”
What happens when corporate marketers commandeer a grassroots health movement and turn it into a mini-industry? Samantha King provides a revealing look in her book, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (University of Minnesota). King, a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, describes how corporate marketers have transformed a once-stigmatized disease into a branded cause that subtly serves their commercial self-interests.
There is a simmering debate in certain tech circles that is starting to come to a boil. It concerns the significance of Web 2.0 to the political economy. Web 2.0, refers to websites like Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook, among thousands of others, where people can self-organize themselves into communities and share stuff for free, without the blessings of a marketplace.
The latest U.S. News & World Report features a two-page interview with On the Commons fellow Peter Barnes (“A Climate Change Proposal with Cash”). http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/national/2008/06/02/a-climate-change-proposal-with-cash.html?PageNr=1
One of the uncounted “externalities” of industrial-style agriculture is an inefficient overuse of chemical fertilizers. Some 85-90 percent of the nitrogen used in fertilizers is washed away into the environment, much of it ending up in the ocean. There, the nitrogen depletes oxygen in water, killing fish, shrimp, claims and other marine life. The “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, between Louisiana and Texas, may be the largest, most famous casualty of big agribusiness practices, but there are hundreds of other dead zones in coastal waters around the world.
Critics in Wyoming complain that the state Game and Fish Department is maintaining feedgrounds for wild elk even though they help incubate and spread “chronic wasting disease” among elk. Cattle-ranchers like the feedgrounds because they allow herds of cattle to forage on public lands instead. But now that an epidemic of “chronic wasting disease” – a variant of “mad cow disease” – is spreading among elk, hunters and environmentalists charge that the feedgrounds are spreading the disease.