Fifteen years ago, many people had given up on the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis — an economically struggling Native American/African-American/white neighborhood with drug problems. What many people didn’t see then was the difference that could be made by the Hope Community, a non-profit organization working to provide affordable housing and a sense of common possibility.
Hope Community Mural Project: L to R, Ben Wooley, Rick Cavey, Jordan Hamilton, Chaka Mkali (staff) and Elijah Benson. Photo by Scott Streble.
In 1971, one of the great experiments in congressional reform began when Ralph Nader enlisted more than 800 college students to spend their summer vacation doing extensive research profiles of every member of Congress (484) and six key Congressional committees. It was a monstrously complicated project of citizen oversight of Congress that made the institutional life of Congress a major national issue. The project generated some 21,000 pages of books and reports in the process of exposing Congress as a world of “protocol, alcohol and Geritol.”
The fight against bottled water as an expensive, ecologically harmful alternative to tap water is being advanced by a special campaign, Think Outside the Bottle, which is endorsed by several dozen of the leading organizations fighting bottled water.
Time magazine did not come right out and say the commons is a key idea influencing our future in its March 24 cover on “10 ideas that are changing the world.”
But it came close.
Leading off the cover story in the number one slot was economist Jeffrey Sachs’ essay on Common Wealth, where he made a case for embracing sustainable development and eradicating global poverty in language that evoked the commons, even though he did not use the word.
If there is one area of American life that could benefit from greater transparency and participation, it is the health care system. Now comes a terrific new report that describes in rigorous detail the many ways in which the open sharing of information could improve the quality of health care for everyone. Harnessing Openness to Transform American Health Care (pdf file) is a new report by the Committee on Economic Development, the business research group, released in January 2008.
For years, thousands of teachers and students around the world have been applying the principles of free software, free culture and Web 2.0 to education.
In the recently completed FCC auctions of wireless airwaves, enough money was bid for the much-coveted “C” block of spectrum that it will have to be offered for us on an “open access” basis. This represents a major development in assuring that wireless access to the Internet. The network will be wide open for competition and consumers will be able to plug whatever devices they want into the network.
The sun is setting above the forested hills of the estuary and the golden light streaks through the windows of the Old Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast in Point Reyes Station, CA. I am here with 25 other artists, writers, organizers, activists, musicians, and educators for the annual gathering of the On the Commons to discuss our individual projects and evolve the vision of how the commons can thrive.
One of the biggest treasure troves of knowledge will soon enter the commons: a major victory for the open access movement! It involves a huge reservoir of federally funded medical research that will be put into the public domain.
Hans Monderman was a Dutch traffic enginneer who transformed how Europe thinks about streets. Monderman advocated returning streets to their true role as commons by getting rid of all traffic signals and even curbs that separate pedestrians from motorists. The idea was that people should negotiate among each other how to share this public space—an idea which sounds crazy but won the enthusiastic support of those who see it in action in the Netherlands and other countries.
Business Week gives admiring attention to the Sky Trust as a mechanism to deal with global warming. The piece, “Carbon Dividend?” clearly likes the idea of distributing dividends from a pool of money generated by auctioning off the right to emit carbon into the sky. A commoners’ salute to our colleague Peter Barnes!
Four major companies have just announced an innovative plan to put 31 of their patented inventions into an “eco-patent commons” so that other companies can freely use them, without first getting permission or paying a royalty. The idea, inspired by open source software and the Creative Commons, is to promote more eco-friendly manufacturing and waste-reduction processes. Bravo to IBM, Nokia, Sony and Pitney Bowes! For more, see the Eco-patent Commons web site.
The presidents of major private colleges and universities like to tout their commitment to equal opportunity and diversity. This is terrific, of course, and a real change from 30 or 40 years ago. But a recent article
in Business Week suggests that the enormous wealth of elite schools is itself causing new types of savage inequality.
In recent months, after major vendors like EarthLink pulled back from their once-ambitious plans to offer wireless broadband in many major American cities, the future of municipal wireless services was seen as dismal. It was disappointing to learn that a promising new local commons might not, in fact, be economically viable. The good news is, wi-fi is alive and well.
Hollywood studios have always insisted that piracy hurts the financial returns for a film – and likes to count every unauthorized viewing as lost revenue. Critics generally respond that pirated DVDs do not necessarily represent lost revenue, especially in countries where ticket prices are high and average wages are low. Piracy in those circumstances is symptomatic of an out-of-whack market that refuses to meet actual consumer demand.
The day after Thanksgiving is purportedly the busiest shopping day of the year, so naturally Adbusters, the culture-jamming magazine based in Vancouver, B.C., has proclaimed today “ Buy Nothing Day.” It’s an inspired idea to raise people’s consciousness about the excesses of consumerism, which increasingly has a more apocalyptic implication, global warming.
Bob McChesney is that rare bird, a scholar’s scholar who is not afraid to plunge into the real world with both feet. Five years ago, at a time when the media reform movement desperately needed some fresh ideas and energy, Bob and Josh Silver co-founded Free Press, a new grassroots, activist organization that has led the charge against media concentration.
There is a growing category of Internet-based companies known as “open businesses” that deserve far more attention than they are getting. These companies incorporate the spirit and mechanisms of the commons into for-profit business operations. To the either/or mind, which insists that everything must be public or private, profit-making or nonprofit, the idea of open business sounds like an oxymoron.
It is something of an open secret that neoclassical economics has serious limitations as a way of understanding the world. But because the intellectual mindset has become so pervasive – despite its remoteness from empirical realities – it is weirdly functional. “Everyone” believes it, so it must be true. It reminds me of the closing joke in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall about a guy with a crazy brother who thought he was a chicken: The doctor says, “Why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”
The current supply of donated hearts, kidneys and livers for transplants is far too little to meet demand. So economists have a simple solution: create a market. Let people sell their organs and let donors buy them. It’s a case of balancing supply and demand. Today’s Wall Street Journal gives fresh attention to the perennial idea of establishing an organ market as a way to decrease the growing waiting list for kidneys. Organ sales have been banned in the U.S. since 1984 under a bill introduced by then-Rep. Al Gore.