Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.
Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.
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With Obama in the White House, the US government changes gear towards a more transparent administration. Now, is this vow for transparency in government, and for the use of the Internet to get people more acquainted with what’s going on behind doors having an effect beyond US borders?
The American model democracy is at its best in the world when it can predicate with the example. Its influence does not come mainly because it has big and powerful missiles, amazing military technology, or the biggest economy in the world. It comes through soft power. Is this new link between technology and democracy a new US export?
Do you know Beth Noveck? She is the xxxx in the Obama administration. She was also the director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy and New York Law School, one of the creators of Peer-to-Patent, and the writer of the book Wiki Government. It is because of the latter that I write this post.
In the book she says:
In devising these practices [open and collaborative consultation of experts online], we have to remain open to all forms of technology, even those that initially seem trivial or irrelevant. Potentially, ubiquitous social networking technologies like Facebook and MySpace, in which participants “friend” and “poke” those in their personal networks, can teach us more about the idiom of participation than the legalistic practices in which so few of us actually participate (page 143, stress added)
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The (short) story of the Spanish manifesto for net neutrality
This week is ending. I’ve been (still I am) in Moscow for a week of teaching at the MGIMO, as I do every six months. On the academic side, no big changes or problems – well, besides a drunk student who told me in front of the rest of the students that “this year everything is changing”, for I will have to start teaching in Russian (!), because he couldn’t understand English and my subject interested him very much (ignoring the fact that there was very good simultaneous translation!). I took it as a funny anecdote anyway, similar to the email I got last year from the worst-translator-ever, who was complaining that he got fired because of me.
The big news for me are that while I was in Russia, I could do politics in Spain. I could participate as a blogger and citizen in the massive online protest against the surreptitious provision included at the end (and some say in the last minute) of Prime Minister Zapatero’s new Ley de Economía Sostenible (Law for a Sustainable Economy), currently being read by the Spanish Parliament. This provision modifies the Spanish Information Society Law passed in 2002. It creates a new Commission for Intellectual Property (Comisión de Propiedad Intelectual) in the Ministry of Culture. And, according to the interpretation I concur with, it gives to this Commission powers to shut off a website or online service infringing intellectual property rights without judicial intervention. This set off a viral fire on the web in a matter of hours. Twitter was the main conduct through which this increasingly candescent political momentum ran. The morning after the law proposal was presented to the Parliament, a (still) unidentified group of “journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators” had written a Manifesto for the defence of the rights of Internet users (Manifiesto en defensa de los derechos fundamentales en Internet).
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For many, “online piracy” appears to be a bad thing. The music, film and software industries and governments want to convince us that IT IS bad. Bad not only for the poor artist or programmer, but also for innovation and for society as a whole. However, many practice it. Many copy songs, movies or software using the Internet. And I say, many do a good thing.
Before the Internet, people could indeed photocopy a book, copy a record on tape or duplicate a movie on VHS, these were possible, though somehow cumbersome and quality-reducing mechanisms of reducing the cost of our “intellectual consumption”. Without them, many people would have probably read less books, listened to less new songs and watched less stories on the screen. Nevertheless, the scale of it was small, thus its social effect tiny. Today, the liberty and usability feature of the Internet have opened unimaginable venues for these “unauthorized” reproduction of intellectual goods, the scale is, indeed, very, very relevant. Thanks to file sharing, hundreds of thousands of people have at their disposal a myriad of intellectual products that were unattainable before, be it for price or accessibility. Thanks to “piracy”, these people, adults and children, are expanding their intellectual scope, they are probably becoming more demanding, in search of more and more varied things.
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A group of journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators want to express their firm opposition to the inclusion in a Draft Law of some changes to Spanish laws restricting the freedoms of expression, information and access to culture on the Internet. They also declare that:
1 .- Copyright should not be placed above citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, security, presumption of innocence, effective judicial protection and freedom of expression.
2 .- Suspension of fundamental rights is and must remain an exclusive competence of judges. This blueprint, contrary to the provisions of Article 20.5 of the Spanish Constitution, places in the hands of the executive the power to keep Spanish citizens from accessing certain websites.
3 .- The proposed laws would create legal uncertainty across Spanish IT companies, damaging one of the few areas of development and future of our economy, hindering the creation of startups, introducing barriers to competition and slowing down its international projection.
4 .- The proposed laws threaten creativity and hinder cultural development. The Internet and new technologies have democratized the creation and publication of all types of content, which no longer depends on an old small industry but on multiple and different sources.
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Europe is setting the technopolitics alarm
“naked on the dance floor (@bnox)”…”love your geeks! (Tom Steinberg)”…”I deal with governments that are actually evil (@edyson)”…”why aren’t more journalists being arrested in Europe? where is the civil courage? (Julian Assange)”…”yes, but I am afraid it will be in English (@j_zim)”…”@jonworth @tom_Watson lets do it (@marietjed66) “…all this was said in the Personal Democracy Forum Europe 2009 (the first!).
It was a good conference. Speakers were carefully selected and they mostly performed very well. For two days, 20 and 21 November a group of wonks, techies, party members, marketeers, Internet analysts and other species gathered together in Jean Nouvel‘s Torre Agbar (or it was Renzo Piano‘s? ) in Barcelona.
During these two days, the guys of CivicoLive streamed the audio of all talks and Q&A (which you can find here). The twitter hashtag #pdfeu was crazily singing ideas, proposals and daring statements about what was being said (and asked, particularly by Mr. Committee of the Regions). The buzz in and around the nicely designed (and rather dysfunctional) tower was intense. Though Spanish media seemed not to have realised, for although the conference was happening in Barcelona, it has been mostly reported only in foreign newspapers and televisions (friends and family are still wondered if I really was in a conference or in a long and dark party somewhere along the coast) (Gemma Urgell’s quick analysis on this lack of vision by Spanish journalists (or editors) (catalan)).
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“The question of democratic legitimacy is a tricky one. How democratic is a Parliament composed of people who were selected by a politburo in a political party and then, vote in by the electorate? Power is in selecting, not in electing. Therefore the so-called “democracy” is in fact a “partitocracy”.”
This comes from a comment exchange I am having on Jon Worth’s blog about the democratic legitimacy of the nomination of the President of the European Council.
Contrary to what I thought, and to what many people in Europe would like (this is just an impressionistic conclusion of mine after gathering a few opinions from people here in Brussels and in Barcelona ), Dave Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary says he’s not available, and he has never been, for the High Representative / Vice-President of the Commission job. All the same, in the Dictionary of Politics there is no word for “never”.
Al Qaeda's brothers against
Just watched on CNN’s World’s Untold Stories the Jihadi Code. A code of more than 400 pages, in which the members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) renounced to violence, declaring it unislamic. They denounce Al Qaeda’s tactics and call radical islamic extremists to use peaceful means for their cause (Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri claimed in a video released in November 2007 that the LIFG had joined their ranks!).Â According to the program, this code is the product of the efforts of Colonel Gaddafi’s son Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi and Noman Benotman, ex-head of the LIFG.
The CNN says that this code could be a turning point in global terrorism; for it is the first time since 9/11 that Al Qaeda is challenged from “inside”. Though it is a confusing story. Sayf al-Islam (on the video) appears as the peacemaker. He really shows a very good face to the world, in favour of freedom and democracy. Noman Benotman talks about deradicalisation as the process to make terrorism fade away. He is now in Washington lobbying for a deradicalisation agenda. Meanwhile, the members of the LIFG who wrote the codeÂ were recently freed from a Tripoli prison.
On the net, I found the following people talking about this interesting story that seems to be ignored by the mainstream media, except CNN.
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In a comments exchange on collaborative government and Web tools on the blog of my site midemocracia.org, I discussed the situation in which political parties are with the emergence and spread of Internet. In his article The Nature of the Firm, Ronald Coase refers to the transaction costs that lead to the creation of the modern organization of the firm outside the market mechanism, when the price (cost) of obtaining a product is higher in the market than through the hierarchical organization of production, or put another way, economic activity will take place within a company when the costs of trading (the market) are higher than with command-and-control.
One factor in the emergence of political parties is the cost of the process of getting votes. With the extension of voting rights – the restricted right to vote based on property, we gradually moved to a universal suffrage in which the entire adult population (18 normally) can vote for their representatives – the cost of obtaining a meaningful vote in the “political market” increases greatly forcing political entrepreneurs, those who wish to gain institutional power to conduct public policy, to organise in hierarchical political institutions to reduce the transaction cost related to the process of obtaining the vote. Those who are not organized in this way disappear from the political market. This process is very similar to the appearance of the company in the market, where the purchasing power of the population increases and companies emerge as the organizational model best suited to produce the offer that the new consumer market needs.
In his book, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky says:
Now that it is possible To achieve large-scale co-ordination at low cost, a third category has emerged: serious, complex work, taken on without institutional direction. Loosely coordinated groups can now Achieve things that were previously out of reach for any other organizational structure, Because they lay under the Coasean floor.
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In October 2008, the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, promised a law on access to public information.
Now it seems that the Spanish government is in the late stages of preparation of a draft Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information. According to ABC, the law is imminent.
The Cabinet intends to submit to Parliament the draft Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information “in coming weeks”, even before the controversial reform of the Religious Freedom Act, admit government sources.
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Today and tomorrow, European “leaders” are meeting to discuss among other things the Treaty of Lisbon. Among the most interesting stuff, they might talk about who is going to be the first President of the European Council, quite an important position in the new institutional configuration of the European Union. The also might discuss who is going to be the next High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of foreign policy/external action of the EU.
Among the men being talked about to be nominated as President is Tony Blair. Yet, it is not going to happen. I would rather say that T Blair is used by the British to get another man in another, perhaps more relevant, job, that is, the second one of High Representative. One person will be from the right and the other from the left or put it differently, one from the conservatives and another from the socialists. My money is on two people that have many of the conditions I reckon are important to have to be selected: being members of one of the big two European coalitions of parties, being or having been in office, being in good relations with most of the leaders around (and perhaps being men, though this condition is a tricky one). These two are Jean-Claude Juncker for President of the EU and David Miliband for High Representative. The first has said that he would be interested, the second has been tipped as a possible candidate.