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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Is It Still Possible to Make Great Public Places Today?

January 10, 2006 | By Jay Walljasper

Great public spaces resemble pornography, at least in the way the U.S. Supreme Court defines it: “You know it when you see it.”

On the Value of Public Spaces

January 5, 2006 | By David Bollier

Author: Jay Walljasper

Teaser: A new movement is mobilizing to protect the shared public spaces that enable individuals to become a community.

Essay:

Whose Atmosphere Is It?

January 3, 2006

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a joint effort by seven northeast states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the region’s power plants. It aims, admirably, to fill the void left by George W. Bush’s refusal to do anything serious about climate change at the national or international level. It has therefore been welcomed by environmentalists and much praised in the media.

Nanotechnology: For Richer or Poorer?

January 1, 2006

Nanotechnology manipulates matter on the extremely tiny scale of atoms and molecules, but its societal impacts will be titanic. The US government spends more taxpayer money on nanotech than any science endeavor since the Apollo moon shot. Worldwide, industry and governments spent over $10 billion on nanotech R&D last year. The National Science Foundation predicts that nano-scale technologies will revolutionize manufacturing across all industry sectors – capturing a $1 trillion market in less than a decade.

Open Source Celebration

December 31, 2005

I’ve never been one for revelry, and I have a dislike of journalistic clichés to begin with. (Does anyone besides a journalist say “revelry”?) But I did go out on First Night in Boston once or twice, and if you’ll forgive me for saying so, it was neat. The strange part is, the whole thing is illegal. Not according to the laws of Boston; the mayor started it. Rather, it is against the laws of economics, as conventionally propounded, at least.

How They Broke the Peace

December 25, 2005

Probably most of us have heard about the informal truces that broke out along the front during the trench warfare of World War I. The story is extraordinary in one respect, and yet utterly normal in another. Here they were, young men huddled in miserable trenches, the “enemy” in the same circumstance just 50 yards away. Shelling from one side would be returned promptly by the other. There was no gain, and yet men might die. The stalemate continued day after day, week after week. What would sane people do?

Coming Soon: Land Grab At Amtrak

December 21, 2005

If you want to kill a railroad, one of the first things you’ll do is split the tracks from the operating line and put them into a separate corporate entity. Riders on Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle know this. Trains on this otherwise scenic route are chronically late – often by hours – because they operate on tracks owned by the Union Pacific. Amtrak trains must stop at sidings to let the UP freight trains pass.

Oligopoly, Inc. 2005: New Report on Concentration in Corporate Power

December 19, 2005

Readers of OTC will be interested in ETC Group’s new report on concentration in corporate power, Oligopoly, Inc. 2005. ETC’s report provides a sector-by-sector analysis that examines the market share of the top 10 companies in the following sectors: Big Pharma, animal pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, pesticides, food and beverage processing and global grocery retailers. Oligopoly, Inc. also looks at the emerging fields of nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

Tech Businesses Recognize the Power of a Knowledge Commons

December 19, 2005 | By David Bollier

Intellectual property rights are supposed to give people incentives to innovate. That’s the cherished grand narrative. But what’s actually happening on the ground? A dispatch by Steve Lohr in today’s NYT suggests that the edifice of IP law may be killing basic research in the cradle:

The Public Trust Doctrine: Venerable and Besieged

December 19, 2005

“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea. No one, therefore, is forbidden to approach the seashore, provided that he respects habitations, monuments, and buildings which are not, like the sea, subject only to the law of nations.”

Our Public Lands Remain Safe – For Now

December 15, 2005 | By David Bollier

The outrageous proposal by Reps. Richard Pombo and Jim Gibbons to sell off tens of millions of acres of public land at rock-bottom prices – including two million acres in the national parks – has failed. That was a close call. OTC readers may recall that the two Representatives had quietly inserted a provision into the massive budget reconciliation bill. The goal was to escape detection, prevent open debate and thwart attempts to strip the measure from the budget bill.

Creationism, Evolution and "Metaphysical Repression"

December 15, 2005

It seems to me that the most casual survey of the current White House, or of commercial television, or of development patterns around, say, Houston, Texas, would cast doubt upon the theory of intelligent design. But then, the smug certitude of the evolutionists is off-putting as well. Creationism, which is intelligent design without the secular costuming, may be literal-minded – and not, I would argue, what the Judeo-Christian Scripture actually means.

The Best Science That Money Can Buy

December 13, 2005 | By David Bollier

A friend of mine who’s a doctor says that he doesn’t trust what he reads in his medical journals any more. He believes that they’ve been too corrupted by the drug companies. I also know of a psychiatrist who considers medical journals and professional education seminars so compromised by Big Pharma that he relies chiefly on the anecdotal accounts of his peers in prescribing drugs.

Paranoid doctors? Hardly. In today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that such skepticism about the reliability of medical journals is entirely warranted. Reporter Anna Wilde Mathews writes:

Seedy Business: Plant Preemption Bills Stalking State Capitals

December 12, 2005

One of the under-reported issues in 2005 was the orchestrated attempt by the ag biotech industry to pass state-level laws to prevent local governments from taking action to regulate or restrict genetically modified crops. Here’s a textbook case of how corporations are winning laws to promote their interests, while threatening democracy and dissent.

Online Commons and the Reinvention of Journalism

December 8, 2005 | By David Bollier

The mainstream media (MSM) are facing a profound crisis of trust and an erosion of their economic base – at the very moment that new genres of citizen journalism, creativity and info-archives are exploding. Coincidence? Hardly. I regard this as a matter of the commons rising. It illustrates what happens when markets lose touch with the social trust and connections that they depend on.

US Rejects Generics Even for Public Health Emergencies

December 6, 2005 | By David Bollier

The Bush Administration, in concert with other industrialized countries under the sway of Big Pharma, is trying to cripple the generic drug industry and make the world safe for more expensive proprietary drugs. And if a public health emergency erupts that calls for large quantities of cheap generics? Too bad. If anthrax powder re-appears as a terror weapon and requires mass quantities of Cipro, if the flu becomes a pandemic and people need Tamiflu, everyone in the US and EU countries will just have to pay full price – assuming there are sufficient quantities of the drugs, of course.

Who Decides Who's Sick?

December 5, 2005

Back when, Ralph Nader used to ask college audiences, “Who defines what a problem is in America today?” Who decides that tired hair, say, is a problem of epochal proportions, while the decimation of species and the befouling of the air flit only episodically across the public screen, rarely long enough to change behavior in any significant way?

Unpaid Work as a Form of Social Wealth

December 5, 2005 | By David Bollier

According to conventional economics, wealth is created by business – and households do little more than buy and consume. But, in fact, families are an enormously important engine of social wealth. They raise children, take care of the elderly and enable our culture to reproduce itself from one generation to the next. These responsibilities are often described as “care work.”

Terminator Technology and Seed Industry Consolidation

December 2, 2005

What’s all the fuss about Terminator seeds (a.k.a. genetic use restriction technology or genetic seed sterilization)? The biotech industry argues that farmers can always say “no” to Terminator seeds. If farmers don’t like the product and it doesn’t offer benefits – farmers won’t buy it. But history shows that farmers aren’t always free to decide:

  • Some years ago the government of Zimbabwe decreed that subsistence corn farmers had to abandon their traditional open-pollinated varieties and adopt maize hybrids.

Terminator Seed Technology - It's Back!

December 1, 2005

It is not widely known or appreciated, but the leading companies in biotechnology are pioneering new corporate strategies to win exclusive monopoly control that go beyond intellectual property. The ETC Group calls these strategies “New Enclosures.”