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Archive for May, 2012

Rick Falkvinge writes:

“Three heavyweight committees in the European Parliament gave their voting recommendations on ACTA today. All three gave the same recommendation: reject ACTA. This means that today, the European Parliament issued three very hard strikes against ACTA.

What happened today was the first steps in a long chain that ends with the final vote in all of the European Parliament, which is the vote where ACTA ultimately lives or dies. If it is defeated on the floor of the European Parliament, then it’s a permakill. Boom, headshot.. But on the way to that vote, a number of specialized committees will say what they think from their perspective.

The committee that “owns” the issue of ACTA, the so-called INTA committee (International Trade), is the committee giving the final recommendation to the European Parliament as a whole. But as input to the INTA recommendation, four other committees will say what they think. Three of those – ITRE (Industry, Research, Energy), JURI (Legal affairs), and LIBE (Civil Liberties) – voted today.

They all voted to recommend rejection of ACTA, and therefore, effectively recommend that the European Parliament kill it dead. But this all happened with very narrow margins, defying an onslaught of procedural tricks and attempts of delaying, so the game is far from over.

Still, it is a sign of changing times. Rather than reciting amendments, political detailed minutiae and vote counts, I’d like to look at the bigger picture.

Perhaps the strongest indication of just how much times are changing is the fact that the monopoly maximalists – those politicians who are firmly planted in corporativist rule – have always had their way, especially in the committee of Legal Affairs which is full of lawyerspeak. At the same time, Pirate has been a dirty word, almost synonymous with criminal. Compare the first two votes today, in the Industry and Legal Affairs committees, and the Members of the European Parliament who were responsible for drafting the opinions of those committees:

Marielle Gallo. Born in the 1940s.
Classic and infamous copyright maximalist.
Opinion Defeated.

Amelia Andersdotter. Born in the 1980s.
Representative for the Pirate Party.
Opinion Carried.

To see a Pirate Representative get her opinion (“reject ACTA”) voted through to the next step, whereas the copyright maximalist gets her opinion (“accept, embrace, and love ACTA”) shot down in the Legal Affairs committee, is a complete breach of a crucial tipping point.

The ACTA battle as a whole is far from over, though. The majorities were narrow. And the overall net liberty war, beyond ACTA, is definitely far from over. I just wanted to highlight how symbolic it is that leglislative text written by pirates is now carried.

Today, we had three important victories in individual skirmishes.

Next, the DEVE committee – (Third World) Development – votes on ACTA on June 4. The INTA committee’s vote, the final step before the main vote, happens on June 21. Then, the European Parliament as a whole votes early July – presumably 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th. That’s the end-of-level boss fight.

We’re winning, but only because we’re fighting hard to win. This is not over.

See also La Quadrature du Net’s comments.

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Michel Bauwens from The Foundation for P2P Alternatives discusses in this keynote speech the current proliferation of peer production practices and peer-to-peer culture that he dubs the “third revolution in human productivity” (the first two being the inventions of slavery and capitalism), in which intrinsic motivation replaces extrinsic motivation as the driver of production for the individual. He also discusses the implications of this shift to the notions of property and governance. The speech was held at the IT-University in Copenhagen on September 22, 2011.

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La Quadrature du Net writes:

“The final phase of the ACTA’s process in the European Parliament begins: “Industry” (ITRE), “Legal Affairs” (JURI) and “Civil Liberties” (LIBE) committees are about to vote on their reports, which will recommend to the European Parliament to adopt or to reject ACTA. These reports will have a strong political weight, and will influence the definitive decision. Until the Thursday’s votes, we still can make heard our voices and convince these committes’ members to express themself in favour of a firm and definitive rejection of ACTA.

The drafts of the reports of LIBE and ITRE committees, positive for the moment, still could be neutralized by the amendments deposited by pro-ACTA MEPs. We can act and defend these reports by calling the LIBE and ITRE members to vote against all these amendments. (read also: each amendments voted in ITRE and LIBE: http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/ITRE_ACTA_report_amendments and http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/LIBE_ACTA_report_amendments)

Within the JURI committee, the last public version of the Marielle Gallo’s report was completely favorable to ACTA. The voted one on Thursday will very probably be similar, even MEPs cannot propose those amendments. We cannot let this new procedural tricks become a success: it is still time to convince the JURI members to reject the Marielle Gallo’s report!

More than ever, to win during the final vote of July, we have to stay mobilized and to make our voice heard. Whether it is by relaying this information or by calling (free of charge) MEPs thanks to the PiPhone (https://piphone.lqdn.fr), each of us can act for the ACTA’s rejection.”

Remember also the 3rd international day of action against ACTA, IPRED & Co on June 9.  A map of the planned events can be found here. See the Stopp ACTA -wiki for more information.

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TorrentFreak writes about a new report on the emerging filesharing scene in North Korea. It turns out pirated copies of South Korean tv shows and music have become an important source of information about the rest of the world for North Koreans. North Korea is of course an extreme example, but the practice of filesharing can have equally emancipatory consequences here in the West as well. We also have various mechanisms that are used to control the flows of information, such as copyright, government classification schemes and paywalls. The ultimate purpose of these mechanisms is, I claim, the same as in countries like North Korea: maintaining existing social relations.

“In the high-stakes debate over control of the Internet, it is common to hear how the free flow of information is crucial to development of humanity. For North Korea, a country that has almost zero Internet access and is repressed beyond anything experienced in the West, the free flow of information is a distant concept. But according to a new report, the sharing of pirate TV shows and music among the citizens of the country is challenging the DPRK regimes’ depiction of the outside world.

When it comes to censorship, few countries in the world are as restrictive or repressive as North Korea.

Citizens of the DPRK are routinely deprived access to any and all information, unless of course it has been created, or authorized, by the regime.

The end result is a largely brainwashed society which is fed an alternative version of reality in order for it to be manipulated and controlled. But according to a new survey, developments in technology are giving citizens of the DPRK new access to information and insights into life beyond their borders.

The report, titled A Quiet Opening surveyed North Korean refugees and those who managed to travel outside the country. What it shows is that increasing numbers are gaining access to pirated media from outside the hermit nation, with potentially life-changing consequences.

While devices such as standard radios and televisions are manufactured so that citizens (at least those who can afford them) can only listen to state-run radio stations, imported devices are able to pick up signals from South Korea, China and beyond, although receiving these broadcasts is a crime.

With Internet unavailable to all but a tiny percentage of the elite, citizens of North Korea are obtaining their information through other means, notably file-sharing devices such as DVDs, MP3 and MP4 players, and USB drives.

Through these means they are being increasingly exposed to pirated TV shows and pop music leaking from neighboring South Korea. What they gain from these files is an alternative take on the world which challenges the propaganda of their leaders.

“I was told when I was young that South Koreans are very poor, but the South Korean dramas proved that just isn’t the case,” explains a 31-year-old who managed to escape North Korea in 2010.

Although there is no Internet, computers are legal in the country and are essential for shifting data to and from USB sticks and other media playback devices. What the report shows is that since computers are still rare, people buy blank devices and use their social networks to acquire pirate South Korean media from people with PC access.

“The MP4 [player] was empty but I received movies and music from friends who had computers and then I watched and listened to them. The battery was charged with electricity and it was portable so young people liked it,” says a 23-year-old former Pyongyang resident.

And it appears that the unlawful sharing of files is widespread, particularly among the youth.

“About 70-80 percent of people that have MP3/4 players are young people,” a 44-year-old male who left DPRK in 2010 reports. “When you do a crackdown of MP3/4 players among high school and university students, you see that 100 percent of them have South Korean music.”

In North Korea possession of unauthorized TV shows or music is a very dangerous affair. Depending on how the offense is viewed, punishments can range from 3 months unpaid labor to 5 years in a prison camp if the media originates from South Korea.

But despite the massive risks, young people in the DPRK are apparently prepared to defy the regime by consuming unauthorized media anyway, something they have in common with the US youth who share files in the face of $150,000 statutory damages.

As we read yesterday, the introduction of tougher and tougher laws to combat the spread of pirate material in Sweden also failed to reach the desired effect when they conflicted with social norms.

Of course, the situation in North Korea goes way beyond anything experienced in the US or Europe, but the battles being fought center around the same thing – the free flow of information. Access to information will eventually set the North Koreans free and if that can be achieved through file-sharing, it will be the activity’s biggest achievement to date, bar none.

The report can be downloaded here (pdf)

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As a follow-up to the post about community organisation in Athens, I quote here Leonidas Oikonomakis who recounts the history of the early-2000s piqueteros movement in Argentina. It’s a good reminder of how the elite can easily co-opt a budding revolution with (false) promises of prosperity and security. This is why it’s so important to hang on to the principles of self-organisation regardless of who’s in government, and to keep a firm distance from any centralised power structures regardless of how benevolent they may appear to be. Oikonomakis’ article was published over at ROARMag.

“The first to revolt in Argentina, already since the 1990s, were the so-called piqueteros. The movement of the unemployed, many of them victims of Menem’s privatizations, that had adopted the road blockade as a tactic (and later on the blockade of boulevards, bridges, supermarkets, as well as government buildings) in order to highlight the social, political, and economic problems of the country.

Yet the piquetero movement never managed to mobilize the masses or capture the support of middle-class Argentinians in its challenge to the country’s political and economic status quo; at least not until the so-called corralito: the banning of cash withdrawals higher than 250 pesos per week (1000 per month) that the De la Rua government and Finance Minister Domingo Cavallo imposed.

Only after they were denied access to their banking accounts did the middle classes — the ladies with the cacerolas and the pensioners that you may remember from TV — take to the streets. And it was exactly at that moment that things got dangerous for the system.

In an excellent documentary by Giorgos Avgeropoulos and his team, Exandas, there is a shocking scene: amidst protests against the coralito, and amidst screams referring to the thieves in Parliament (does it ring any bells, my Greek compatriots?), there appears an old man, presumably a pensioner, who faces the camera and cries out:

“Now we are fighting? Now that our pocket has been picked? Welcome coralito, it is one stage beyond consciousness. If that’s what it takes for the people to take to the streets, welcome coralito… the sheep have rebelled. The revolution of the animal farm.”

He was right. And the system knew it.

-“Que se vayan todos!” the Argentinians were shouting. Away with them all!
-“Να φύγουν όλοι!” they were shouting in the squares of Greece. Away with them all!

And their discontent was targeted towards similar directions: the Argentinians were protesting against the IMF for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it was demanding, but also against the country’s political establishment which it considered corrupt. The Greeks, on their part, are protesting against the Troika for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it demands, as well as against their country’s political establishment, which is characterized by corruption, nepotism, and clientelistic relations. And there’s one more thing the Argentinians and the Greeks have in common: they both started doubting the dominant economic paradigm as such: capitalism.

And if in Greece the squares have just started to learn how to ‘breathe freely’, to self-organize, to decide and act together, in Argentina things had become more dangerous for the political and economic status quo.

The piqueteros started coordinating with each other, started occupying workplaces and established workers’ cooperatives for their administration (watch Naomi Klein’s and Avi Lewis’ The Take for a wonderful impression of this alternative system of ‘grassroots socialism’), while at the same time they began experimenting with economic systems based on barter, or direct exchange.

The piqueteros also started operating communal kitchens, came up with neighborhood assemblies, and launched cooperative efforts to run bakeries, construction teams, and libraries. According to Benjamin Dangl, in Dancing with Dynamite, this process gave birth to more than 200 worker-run factories and businesses throughout the country, with more than 15.000 people working in these cooperatives in sectors as diverse as car-part production and balloon factories. All of this took place during the one year of Eduardo Duhalde’s transitional government.

[…]

In summer 2002, Eduardo Duhaldo resigned after backing Nestor Kirchner as his favorite successor. Elections were announced, and the main two competitors were Carlos Menem, the man who more than anyone else represented the Argentinian crisis, and Nestor Kirchner, a political outsider, former governor of Santa Cruz province – the only option for the Argentinean left.

Menem won the first round but, seeing that it would be virtually impossible to beat Kirchner in the second, he stood down. And so, Nestor Kirchner was elected President of Argentina, with the smallest ever percentage gained by a presidential winner: a mere 22 percent of the votes.

Upon his election, Kirchner refused to implement the IMF’s conditionalities, which included further cuts in social spending and a shrinking role for the state in the economy, while at the same time announcing that he would pay back to the country’s private creditors 30 cents on every dollar that it owed to them, using the effective threat of a total default instead. Of course, he paid back the IMF in full, but refused to continue receiving loans (and orders) from it.

In addition, Kirchner introduced policies that raised the minimum wage, protected workers’ and unions’ rights, and expanded social security programs to more unemployed and workers in the informal sector. He increased public spending on education and housing, and put limits on the prices of the formerly state-owned enterprises privatized by Menem. Moreover, Kirchner’s government took a solid stance on the prosecution of criminals involved in the 1976-83 dictatorship.

And of course, Kirchner did little to hide his intentions, which were to save the Argentine state from implosion and reconstruct the capitalist system in the country, reversing the extreme neoliberal measures that the previous governments had taken and replacing them with a more humanistic or social democratic orientation.

Kirchner’s measures brought middle class Argentinians back home from the streets — to the normalcy they were asking for. At the same time, while it cannot be denied (and it should not be underestimated either) that this certainly helped middle and lower class citizens to get back on their feet, it should also be noted that Kirchner’s measures clearly played a decisive role in the demobilization of the country’s once powerful social movements.

Some piquetero leaders were coopted and given positions in the government while certain civil society organizations were offered state subsidies. Those who insisted in their resistance were treated with police repression, isolation, and exclusion from the public sphere.

The rest was a matter of time. Soon, the radical experiments on direct democracy and life beyond capitalism lost their  momentum, giving way to Kirchner’s ‘capitalism with a human face’ (which, no matter how you mask it, remains capitalism, albeit slightly more regulated by the state). “In other words,” As Benjamin Dangl summarizes, “Kirchner was handing out crumbs, when what many demanded was revolution.”

[…]

In a way, the challenges faced by the piqueteros were nothing new. Throughout history, social movements around the world have been faced with an eternal and seemingly intractable dilemma: how to bring about lasting social change? While some have opted for a revolutionary road to capture state power, others chose the electoral road to obtaining state power. Others still have chosen to ignore the state altogether and build alternative institutions of direct democracy and autonomous self-management from the grassroots up.

Ahead of the Greek elections, and against the backdrop of widespread excitement around Europe about the expected electoral victory of a ‘radical’ left-wing party, maybe we should turn back and try to remember what happened in other parts of the globe when a left-wing party answered the eternal dilemma facing social movements with a decisive choice for the ‘parliamentary path’ to state power.

Maybe then we‘ll be able to answer the question asked by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: “Why do social movements consistently lose out to electoral institutional politics once the center-left takes over a regime?” And maybe then, at last, we will realize that we need to come up with new slogans to keep the Greek squares from falling prey to the same fate as that befell the piqueteros of Argentina.”

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This short documentary shows a side of Greece that we don’t get in the news. In Athens, there are currently dozens of neighbourhood assemblies that have started organising their local affairs amongst themselves on the basis of mutual aid, outside of both the market and the state. Notwithstanding the tragic effects of the ongoing debt crisis on the Greek people, it’s good to keep in mind the various other connotations of the Greek word krisis: decision, choice, turning point. A crisis is a situation that forces one to leave the comfort zone, look upon one’s situation critically and make assessments on what’s actually important in life. This applies to individuals and communities alike. If the Greek people can keep these local institutions going even after the national economy improves, I think they’ll be better off when the next crisis hits than us here in the complacent North.

This film is a part of the upcoming DVD Our Present is Your Future from ReelNews.

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Professor of anthropology and leading Marxist theorist David Harvey and anthropologist and activist David Graeber discuss in this video the struggles between labour and capital in contemporary cities, drawing upon Harvey’s new book Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012). They also talk at length about the Occupy movement, in which Graeber has been heavily involved. The discussion was held on April 25, 2012 at The CUNY Graduate Center in New York.

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