CALL for HACKER SPACE PROGRAM
http://events.ccc.de/camp/2011/wiki/Call_for_Space_Program
http://www.ccc.de/en/

the HACKERSPACE GLOBAL GRID (HGG)
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg:open_tasks
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16367042
Hackers plan space satellites to combat censorship
by David Meyer / 4 January 2012

The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites. Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon. Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit – usually only for brief periods of time – but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects. The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project. “The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said. He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.

Beyond balloons
Although space missions have been the preserve of national agencies and large companies, amateur enthusiasts have launched objects into the heavens. High-altitude balloons have also been used to place cameras and other equipment into what is termed “near space”. The balloons can linger for extended amounts of time – but are not suitable for satellites. The amateur radio satellite Arissat-1 was deployed into low earth orbit last year via a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts from the International Space Station as part of an educational project. Students and academics have also launched other objects by piggybacking official rocket launches. However, these devices have often proved tricky to pinpoint precisely from the ground. According to Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old enthusiast from Stuttgart who is working on the Hackerspace Global Grid, this is largely due to lack of funding. “Professionals can track satellites from ground stations, but usually they don’t have to because, if you pay a large sum [to send the satellite up on a rocket], they put it in an exact place,” Mr Bauer said. In the long run, a wider hacker aerospace project aims to put an amateur astronaut onto the moon within the next 23 years. “It is very ambitious so we said let’s try something smaller first,” Mr Bauer added.

Ground network
The Berlin conference was the latest meeting held by the Chaos Computer Club, a decades-old German hacker group that has proven influential not only for those interested in exploiting or improving computer security, but also for people who enjoy tinkering with hardware and software. When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme. He and his teammates are working on their part of the project together with Constellation, an existing German aerospace research initiative that mostly consists of interlinked student projects. In the open-source spirit of Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and some friends came up with the idea of a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals. Used together in a global network, these stations would be able to pinpoint satellites at any given time, while also making it easier and more reliable for fast-moving satellites to send data back to earth. “It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Mr Bauer said. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.” Mr Bauer said the team would have three prototype ground stations in place in the first half of 2012, and hoped to give away some working models at the next Chaos Communication Congress in a year’s time. They would also sell the devices on a non-profit basis. “We’re aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station. That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend,” Mr Bauer added.

Complications
Experts say the satellite project is feasible, but could be restricted by technical limitations. “Low earth orbit satellites such as have been launched by amateurs so far, do not stay in a single place but rather orbit, typically every 90 minutes,” said Prof Alan Woodward from the computing department at the University of Surrey. “That’s not to say they can’t be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods that they are in your view. It’s difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation.” This problem could be avoided if the hackers managed to put their satellites into geostationary orbits above the equator. This would allow them to match the earth’s movement and appear to be motionless when viewed from the ground. However, this would pose a different problem. “It means that they are so far from earth that there is an appreciable delay on any signal, which can interfere with certain Internet applications,” Prof Woodward said. “There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats. So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites.”

Need for knowledge
Apart from the ground station scheme, other aspects of the Hackerspace project that are being worked on include the development of new electronics that can survive in space, and the launch vehicles that can get them there in the first place. According to Mr Farr, the “only motive” of the Hackerspace Global Grid is knowledge. He said many participants are frustrated that no person has been sent past low Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. “This [hacker] community can put humanity back in space in a meaningful way,” Farr said. “The goal is to get back to where we were in the 1970s. Hackers find it offensive that we’ve had the technology since before many of us were born and we haven’t gone back.” Asked whether some might see negative security implications in the idea of establishing a hacker presence in space, Farr said the only downside would be that “people might not be able to censor your internet. Hackers are about open information,” Farr added. “We believe communication is a human right.”

PREVIOUSLY on SPECTRE
CONSUMER USE: SURREY SATELLITES (SSTL)
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/consumer-satellite-use/
DIY PERSONAL SATELLITES
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/diy-personal-satellites/
SATELLITE HACKS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/sat-hacks/
BRAZILIAN SATELLITE SQUATTERS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/brazilian-satellite-squatters/
RUSSIANS LAUNCHING SATELLITES from SUBS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/russians-launching-satellites-from-subs/
COWS as COMPASS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/cows-as-compass/
SOLAR FLARES: a CARRINGTON EVENT
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/a-carrington-event/
EARTH WILL HAVE RINGS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/earth-will-have-rings-2/

DIY SATELLITE INTERNET
http://www.zdnet.com/news/hackers-aim-to-launch-internet-satellite-network-moon-mission/6335491
by David Meyer  /  January 3, 2012

Hackers have announced work on a ground station scheme that would make amateur satellites more viable, as part of an aerospace scheme that ultimately aims for the moon. The Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG) project hopes to make it possible for amateurs to more accurately track the home-brewed satellites. As these devices tend to be launched by balloon, they are not placed at a precise point in orbit as professional satellites deployed by rocket usually are. Armin Bauer, one of the three German hobbyists involved in the HGG, said at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin that the system involved a reversal of the standard GPS technique. The scheme was announced at the event, which is Europe’s largest hacker conference. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are,” Bauer said on Friday, according to the BBC. “We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.”

According to the HGG website, enthusiasts would site the ground stations using coordinates not only from the US’s GPS system, but also those from the EU’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and ground surveys. A major aim of the wider ‘Hacker Space Program’ is to create a satellite system for internet communication that is uncensorable by any country. The hackers also want to put someone on the moon by 2034 — something that has not been done since the Apollo 17 mission 39 years ago. Bauer described the moon mission as “very ambitious”. As for the anti-censorship aspects of the scheme, the HGG team said on their site that they are “not yet in a technical position to discuss details”. They also noted that the modular ground stations, which are intended to work out at a non-profit sales price of €100 (£84) each, would be able to work without the internet. “Then you will have to deploy four receiver stations and connect them to your laptop(s) or collect all storage media added to them, where all received data is stored on,” the team wrote. “Then you have to manage the data handling and processing by your own.” However, internet connectivity is the plan for most of the HGG’s usage. The team is working on the project alongside Constellation, an German aerospace research platform for academics that would use the distributed network to derive crucial data.

According to Bauer and his colleagues, the internet connectivity would be of “bare minimum” bandwidth that would be enough to keep basic communications going if needed. “The first step is establishing a means of accurate synchronisation for the distributed network,” the team explained. “Next up are building various receiver modules (ADS-B, amateur satellites, etc) and data processing of received signals. A communication/control channel (read: sending data) is a future possibility but there are no fixed plans on how this could be implemented yet.” The HGG team hopes to have working prototypes in the first half of the year, with production units ready for distribution by the end of 2012. These would be sold, but people would be able to build their own as well. If the Hacker Space Program really does take off, the satellites would be out of any country’s legal jurisdiction, but this would also leave any country that is capable of doing so free to disable them in some way. The HGG team admitted on their site that there would nothing they could do to stop this happening. “Since we don’t have actual satellites yet, this falls in the category of problems we’re going to solve once they occur,” they wrote. “We’re doing this because we want to and because it’s fun. We’re trying to concentrate on reasons why this will work, not why it won’t.”

http://aerospaceresearch.net/constellation/

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS – GROUND STATIONS
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg:faq
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg
http://events.ccc.de/congress/2011/Fahrplan/attachments/2043_slides.pdf
http://events.ccc.de/congress/2011/Fahrplan/track/Hacking/4699.en.html
Building a Distributed Satellite Ground Station Network – A Call To Arms
Hackers need satellites. Hackers need internet over satellites. Satellites require ground stations. Let’s build them!

As proposed by Nick Farr et al at CCCamp11, we – the hacker community – are in desperate need for our own communication infrastructure. So here we are, answering the call for the Hacker Space Program with our proposal of a distributed satellite communications ground station network. An affordable way to bring satellite communications to a hackerspace near you. We’re proposing a multi-step approach to work towards this goal by setting up a distributed network of ground stations which will ensure a 24/7 communication window – first tracking, then communicating with satellites. The current state of a proof of concept implementation will be presented. This is a project closely related to the academic femto-satellite movement, ham radio, Constellation@Home.

The area of small satellites (femto-satellite <0.1 kg up to mini-satellite 100-500 kg) is currently pressed forward by Universities and enables scientific research at a small budget. Gathered data, both scientific and operational, requires communication between satellites and ground stations as well as to the final recipients of the data. One either has to establish own transmission stations or rent already existing stations. The project “distributed ground station” is an extension to the project which will offer, at its final expansion state, the ability to receive data from satellites and relay them to the final recepients. It is therefore proposed that a world-wide distributed network of antennas is to be set up which will be connected via the internet allowing the forwarding of received signals to a central server which will in turn forward signals to further recepients. Individual antennas will be set up by volunteers (Citizen Scientists) and partner institutions (Universities, institutes, companies). The core objective of the project is to develop an affordable hardware platform (antenna and receiver) to be connected to home computers as well as the required software. This platform should enable everyone to receive signals from femto-satellites at a budget and in doing so, eradicating black patches where there is currently no ground station to receive signals of satellites passing over-head. Emphasise is put on contributions by volunteers and ham radio operators who can contribute both passively by setting up a receiver station or actively by shaping the project making it a community driven effort powered by open-source hardware and applications.

Purposes The distributed ground stations will enable many different uses. Using distributed ground stations one could receive beacon signals of satellites and triangulate their position and trajectory. It would therefore be possible to determine the kepler elements right after launching of a new satellite without having to rely on official reports made at low frequency. Beacon tracking is also not limited to just satellites but can be used to track other objects like weather balloons and areal drones and record their flight paths. Additionally, beacon signals (sender ID, time, transmission power) could be augmented with house-keeping data to allow troubleshooting in cases where a main data feed is interrupted. Details regarding the protocol and maximum data packet length are to be defined during the feasibility study phase. Furthermore, distributed ground stations can be used as “data dumping” receivers. This can be used to reduce load on the main ground station as well as to more quickly distribute data to final recipients. The FunCube project, an out-reach project to schools, is already using a similar approach. Another expansion stage would be increasing the bandwidth of the individual receivers. As a side-effect, distributed ground station could also be used to analyse meteorite scattering and study effects in the ionosphere by having a ground-based sender with a known beacon signal to be reflected off meteorites and/or the iononosphere and in turn received by the distributed ground stations. Depending on the frequency used further applications in the field of atmospheric research, eg. local and regional properties of the air and storm clouds, can be imagined. Depending on local laws and guidelines, antennas could also be used to transmit signals. The concept suggests the following expansion stages:

  1. Feasibility study for the individual expansion stages
  2. Beacon-Tracking and sender triangulation
  3. Low-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Kbit/s)
  4. High-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Mbit/s)
  5. Support for data transmission Each stage is again split up into sub-projects to deal with hardware and software design and develoment, prototyping, testing and batch/mass production, Network The networking concept demands that all distributed ground stations are to be connected via the internet. This can be achieved using the Constellation platform. Constellation is a distributed computing project used already for various simulations related to aerospace applications. The system is based on computation power donated by volunteers which is combined to effectively build a world-wide distributed super-computer. The software used to do this is BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) which also offers support for additional hardware to eg. establish a sensor network. Another BOINC-project is the Quake Quatcher Network which is using accelleration sensors built into laptops or custom USB-dongles to detected earthquakes. Constellation could be enhanced to allow use of the distributed ground station hardware. Constellation is an academic student group of the DGLR (german aerospace society) at Stuttgart University and is supported by Rechenkraft.net e.V and Selfnet e.V.. Ham radio and volunteers Special consideration is given to the ham radio community. Femto-satellites make use of the ham radio bands in the UHF, VHF, and S-Band range. As a part of the ham radio community ham radio operators should be treated as part of the network. Ham radio operators hold all required knowledge about the technology required to operate radio equipment and are also well distributed world-wide. To also make the system attractive to volunteers, hardware should be designed in a way that allows manufacturing and distribution on a budget. All designs should also be made public to allow own and improved builds of the system by the community. The hardware should be designed to be simple to use correctly and hard to be used wrong.

    Supporters
    [1] Constellation Plattform, aerospaceresearch.net/constellation [2] shackspace Stuttgart, http://www.shackspace.de References [1] IRS Kleinsatelliten, Universität Stuttgart, kleinsatelliten.de [2] Constellation Plattform, aerospaceresearch.net/constellation [3] BOINC, Berkely University, boinc.edu [4] Quake Catcher Network, qcn.stanford.eu [5] DGLR Bezirksgruppe Stuttgart, stuttgart.dglr.de [6] Rechenkraft.net e.V., rechenkraft.net [7] Selfnet e.V., selfnet.de

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http://www.community-wealth.org/strategies/index.html


Cliff Wood with the Ohio Cooperative Solar looks over the installation on the roof of the Euclid Public Library.

CO-OPERATIVES
http://www.garalperovitz.com/2011/12/worker-owners-of-the-world-unite/
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/opinion/worker-owners-of-america-unite.html
by Gar Alperovitz / December 14, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street protests have come and mostly gone, and whether they continue to have an impact or not, they have brought an astounding fact to the public’s attention: a mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country’s financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever, thanks to our no-holds-barred capitalist system. But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing. Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions. And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.

Local and state governments are likewise changing the nature of American capitalism. Almost half the states manage venture capital efforts, taking partial ownership in new businesses. Calpers, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local development projects; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each resident with dividends from public investment strategies as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development. Moreover, this year some 14 states began to consider legislation to create public banks similar to the longstanding Bank of North Dakota; 15 more began to consider some form of single-payer or public-option health care plan. Some of these developments, like rural co-ops and credit unions, have their origins in the New Deal era; some go back even further, to the Grange movement of the 1880s. The most widespread form of worker ownership stems from 1970s legislation that provided tax benefits to owners of small businesses who sold to their employees when they retired. Reagan-era domestic-spending cuts spurred nonprofits to form social enterprises that used profits to help finance their missions. Recently, growing economic pain has provided a further catalyst. The Cleveland cooperatives are an answer to urban decay that traditional job training, small-business and other development strategies simply do not touch. They also build on a 30-year history of Ohio employee-ownership experiments traceable to the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

Further policy changes are likely. In Indiana, the Republican state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, is using state deposits to lower interest costs to employee-owned companies, a precedent others states could easily follow. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, is developing legislation to support worker-owned strategies like that of Cleveland in other cities. And several policy analysts have proposed expanding existing government “set aside” procurement programs for small businesses to include co-ops and other democratized enterprises. If such cooperative efforts continue to increase in number, scale and sophistication, they may suggest the outlines, however tentative, of something very different from both traditional, corporate-dominated capitalism and traditional socialism. It’s easy to overestimate the possibilities of a new system. These efforts are minor compared with the power of Wall Street banks and the other giants of the American economy. On the other hand, it is precisely these institutions that have created enormous economic problems and fueled public anger. During the populist and progressive eras, a decades-long buildup of public anger led to major policy shifts, many of which simply took existing ideas from local and state efforts to the national stage. Furthermore, we have already seen how, in moments of crisis, the nationalization of auto giants like General Motors and Chrysler can suddenly become a reality. When the next financial breakdown occurs, huge injections of public money may well lead to de facto takeovers of major banks. And while the American public has long supported the capitalist model, that, too, may be changing. In 2009 a Rasmussen poll reported that Americans under 30 years old were “essentially evenly divided” as to whether they preferred “capitalism” or “socialism.” A long era of economic stagnation could well lead to a profound national debate about an America that is dominated neither by giant corporations nor by socialist bureaucrats. It would be a fitting next direction for a troubled nation that has long styled itself as of, by and for the people.




OWN IT
http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/28/local/la-me-richmond-20111128
They’re owning this cooperation
by Lee Romney / November 28, 2011

Where a hot dog stand now is the main lunchtime option for city workers in this distressed Bay Area town, soon they’ll be able to choose from steel-cut oatmeal, goat cheese empanadas and white bean and kale stew, prepared in a mobile cafe. Its owners will share in the decision-making — and any profits. Richmond Solar has trained needy residents to work as green-energy installers and now aims to transform some into bosses by forming a worker-owned cooperative. The city’s first bicycle shop has opened with similar dreams: Young men who have volunteered to learn the repair trade soon may be elevated to co-owners. “I’m just gonna ride it out with everyone to get where we need to go,” Mercedes Burnell, 19, said as he prepared to replace a crankshaft and pedals at Richmond SPOKES.

The flurry of democratic enterprise has been guided by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a former schoolteacher who visited Mondragon, Spain, and recognized a possible path out of the poverty and unemployment that plague her city. The Basque hill town is dominated by Mondragon Corp., a web of cooperatives that employ 83,000 workers and together represent Spain’s seventh-largest business. Co-op clusters based on Mondragon’s model have emerged in Cleveland and the Bronx, N.Y., among other cities. Richmond, with a 16% unemployment rate, hopes to follow suit. The city’s industrial roots date back more than a century, when it was home to the Santa Fe Railroad terminus and a Standard Oil refinery. World War II shipyards swelled the population to nearly its current 103,000. But Richmond has struggled since and is regularly listed among the nation’s 25 most dangerous cities. Since August, Bay Area co-op veteran Terry Baird — a burly man with a gray beard and a penchant for South African freedom songs — has been on the city payroll, helping to piece together cooperative ventures in Richmond’s economically barren pockets.

Mondragon Corp. was created in 1956 and fine-tuned over half a century, McLaughlin said, “but you have to start somewhere. One of the prerequisites of starting a co-op is need, and that is something that we have in Richmond.” Demand matters too. Baird aims to start small, with food and service co-ops such as a plumber’s collective that won’t require hefty upfront investment. Then the city hopes to bring government and other big employers on board, setting up ventures to meet their buying needs. McLaughlin, a Green Party member who’s been mayor since 2006, visited Mondragon last year and was dazzled by the scale of the worker-driven enterprises. “My understanding of co-ops from the 1960s and 1970s was that they were small and interesting,” said McLaughlin, who was immediately sold on the idea of replicating the formula in Richmond. The Mondragon story began with a Catholic priest. In 1943, Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta — who had narrowly escaped death by firing squad during the Spanish Civil War — started a technical school for working-class boys. By 1956, graduates had helped form the first cooperative to make kerosene stoves. A cooperative bank followed in 1959. The corporation, which reported a $242-million profit last year, now includes 255 industrial, retail and financial cooperatives, with others focusing on education and research. Manufacturing co-ops churn out metal-cutting tools, washing machines and bicycles. A retail co-op runs Spain’s third-largest grocery chain. A Mondragon construction venture built Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. About 85% of the corporation’s employees are co-op members. But the original edict of one-worker/one vote remains, through an elected general assembly with representatives from each cooperative. Recently, the assembly voted to cut everyone’s pay rather than risk layoffs at any one co-op. The compensation of the highest-paid worker is capped at seven times that of the lowest. Some of the corporation’s overall profits go toward offsetting losses at any individual enterprise. Workers also receive a share in the corporation, based on their contributions, every year, with more money flowing into interest-bearing accounts disbursed at retirement.

The U.S. has a history of cooperative movements, beginning with enterprises organized in the late 19th century by the Knights of Labor and highlighted by the burst of food co-ops and consumer buying clubs of the 1960s. Recent years have seen a resurgence. “It’s less counterculture utopian,” said Melissa Hoover, executive director of the San Francisco-based U.S. Federation of Worker Owned Cooperatives, “and more engaged with people in the economy.” Some of the growth is sector-based: Green-cleaning ventures launched by immigrant women, for example, are common. But philanthropists and community developers increasingly have focused their attention on the co-op model as a way to revitalize urban areas. No city experiment has made more of a splash than Cleveland’s. With support from universities and medical centers that border the downtown area targeted for development, the Cleveland Foundation — a donor-based organization dedicated to bettering the city — has channeled millions of dollars into the Mondragon-inspired Evergreen Cooperatives. A solar panel installation-and-weatherization company and a green commercial laundry are up and running with a combined 50 worker-owners, said Lillian Kuri, program director of the Cleveland Foundation. An urban farming co-op is scheduled to open in the spring. In addition to providing financing for co-op ventures, Evergreen Cooperatives makes services such as child care available to the workers and provides no-cost healthcare. Ted Howard, an architect of Cleveland’s experiment and founder of the University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative, said worker-ownership is supplanting other forms of inner-city revival. “When you’re hiring people even in a decent job that pays a living wage — if they … have no retirement account, no rainy day savings — a job alone is not enough,” Howard said.

In addition to offering the chance to share in profits, worker-owned companies are rooted in the community and won’t “pack up and move,” he said. The co-op model has found interest among government officials in Washington D.C., Amarillo, Texas, and Atlanta, Howard said, but Richmond stands alone in hiring a coordinator. “I don’t know any city in America that’s done that,” he said. Enter Baird, a Richmond resident who in 1997 helped found the worker-owned Arizmendi Bakery cooperative in Oakland. The Arizmendi Assn. of Cooperatives now includes six Bay Area bakeries. All workers earn the same pay rate. Profits are distributed at year’s end in proportion to hours worked. Though he may be a co-op evangelist, Baird knows the model won’t work without a product or service consumers will pay for, a decent location and a group of people who are able to work together. During a recent tour of Richmond, Baird pointed out candidates for cooperative ventures: A vacant 5,000-square-foot building is under consideration for a handyman’s cooperative. A faded onetime coin laundry near a city park could become a bakery or restaurant. Then there’s the weedy lot that one woman hopes to transform into a cooperative garden and farm stand. In the heart of the old downtown sits Richmond SPOKES. Brian Drayton, once a junior zookeeper in Baltimore, spent years developing youth programs for a range of nonprofits, stressing art and environmental sustainability. When he opened the community space and “bike lounge” as a nonprofit last month, young men from the neighborhood poured in to find out what he was doing. Then they rolled up their sleeves and helped lay gleaming wood flooring. As a local artist covered the walls in vivid murals, they stuck around to learn the bike trade. Baird has been meeting with a group of five or so men to discuss a worker-owned collective.

Richmond Solar Executive Director Michelle McGeoy has secured funds for her co-op from, among others, Chevron (formerly Standard Oil and now the city’s largest employer) and the California Endowment — a private foundation that seeks to promote healthy communities. The company has set an initial target of having 10 worker-owners by next spring. Then there’s the Liberty Ship Cafe, whose seven owners were drawn together while taking a class on developing cooperatives at the Richmond library. The California Endowment has helped fund this project as well. On Dec. 1, the collective will start selling its breakfast and lunch fare at a farmers market near the civic center. The plan is to begin deliveries to government office workers soon after. Julio Chavez, 40, studied communications in his native Guatemala before coming to the U.S. and working as an electrician. In recent months, he has joined the other Liberty Ship Cafe partners in testing recipes for sancocho — a traditional Latin American soup — and other delicacies in a rented church kitchen. “It’s a difficult time, so one has to do different things, to search for options,” Chavez said. Challenges remain. While Mondragon is united by its Basque culture, Baird noted, Richmond is fragmented by race and class and shadowed by chronic violence. On top of the usual cost of business, cooperatives require training — not just in job-specific skills but on how to manage a business and make sure everyone’s voice is heard. “The real thing that can take a [cooperative] business down,” Hoover said, “is a group that’s not prepared to make decisions together.” On a recent rainy day, the Liberty Ship Cafe workers met to discuss just that. Concetta Abraham, a 76-year-old native of Italy, provides much of the group’s cooking magic. While tasting her savory pozole, the collective determined how long each member should be allowed to speak on agenda items and discussed the importance of not interrupting one another. “We’re from different countries, different cultures and are different ages,” said 68-year-old Carlos Ruiller, who was born in Peru. “There’s a period where we’ll have to suffer and adapt. But I’m hopeful. We’re all equals starting out — like soldiers.”


TRANSCRIPT
http://www.garalperovitz.com/abc/
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/15/worker_owners_of_america_unite_will

AMY GOODMAN: Alperovitz finds that 130 million Americans are members of some kind of cooperative, and 13 million Americans work in an employee-owned company. He says the U.S. may be heading toward something very different from both corporate-dominated capitalism and from traditional socialism. Gar Alperovitz is a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. His op-ed is called “Worker-Owners of America, Unite!” It’s out today in the New York Times. A new edition of his book, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy, has also just been published. So, what’s the evidence for this, Gar?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, it’s piling up right beneath the surface, that the press, the normal press, hasn’t been covering. You know, 130 million people, that’s 40 percent of United States, involved in credit unions, co-ops all over the country, that don’t get any publicity. And roughly 13 million people, in one kind or another, have worker-owned companies—again, five or six million more people than are involved in labor unions. And several states are attempting to set up state banks, like the existing Bank of North Dakota. A number of cities are trying to set up city banks. San Francisco and Portland are the latest ones on the list. So, if you look deeper, you find wonderful experiments going on. One really interesting one in Cleveland, where there’s a group of cooperatively owned businesses by—in the community that are building a hydroponic land kind of greenhouse, producing three to five million heads of lettuce a year, a gigantic laundry—all this worker-owned. And again, the press hasn’t been covering it, but there—it gives you a sense of what could happen if the Occupy movement gets serious about simply building on what’s already out there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But in terms of a critical mass for the economy, are we talking about here cooperatives that have a significant share of the economic activity in the country, or are we talking largely about very small co-ops that, while they may involve a lot of people, don’t really have that much impact on the overall economy of the country?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, that’s the interesting thing. Of course most of this is still much smaller than the giant corporations—I mean, the ones that got us into trouble and the ones that got nationalized, as in GM and Chrysler and the big banks. And at some point, we’re going to have to go to that level. But what’s happening, and I think because of the pain levels, we’re seeing these things grow over time simply because the pain is growing. And the ones I mentioned in Cleveland are not small. We’ve got a laundry—an industrial-scale laundry going on there, owned by the workers in that community, that’s probably the most ecologically advanced in the country. This large greenhouse that’s developing, three to five million heads of lettuce. These are not your little corner stores. So I see a trend of expanding possibility, building step by step on what’s already out there. We’ve learned a lot in the last several decades. And I think it’s going to grow over time because of the pain levels. That’s what the evidence suggests.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the banks and the credit unions, the state banks that are developing.

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, we’ve had, since the beginning part of the century in North Dakota, a state-owned bank, highly successful. The press doesn’t cover it. But it’s a bank that exists just like other banks, but it doesn’t speculate. It doesn’t use money to do what the Wall Street banks are doing. And as I say, there are about 14 states that have introduced legislation to reproduce that, help finance small business, on the one hand, but co-ops and worker-owned firms, and most of this with a real green edge to it, ecologically developed. And in these city banks, the same thing, trying to focus—for instance, in San Francisco, there’s about $2 billion in state—in city money, that’s taxpayer money. Instead of putting it in the Bank of America, the proposal is put it in a city bank or a city credit union and then use that to finance development in the city. And I think that direction, using those public monies, and not simply to finance corporations or speculation, but doing it in a way that builds up this already developing knowledge and base of worker-owned companies, community-owned developments, neighborhood developments, co-ops, that form of development, the way to think about it is the—you know, the two to three decades before the Progressive Era and the Populist Era really made a big national impact. There was a developmental process, step by step, at the state level. Take the women’s right to vote, the same thing: step by step, state by state by state, building up over three to four to five decades. But I think the pain level is so high, it’s going to be quicker this time. So I take this local development process very seriously. And I think it can lead to national change, as the New Deal did at one point when the pain levels really struck. You know, at the other—

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also talk—

GAR ALPEROVITZ: At the other—go ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I can, you also talk about the changing attitudes, especially among young Americans, toward concepts like capitalism and socialism. Could you talk about that, as well?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Yeah, there was a Rasmussen poll—now, we’re talking about a fairly conservative polling group—in 2009. People under 30, they found, were equally disposed as to whether capitalism or socialism was a better system. And now that’s a big change. We’re past the time in the Cold War when anyone who mentioned anything like a worker-owned company or cooperative or public-owned enterprise was written out of court. Lots of younger people are looking at what will work in the midst of a failing economy, where the large corporations are falling day by day and the speculators on Wall Street are speculating away the money. I think we’re seeing a change in attitude, both increasing doubts about what’s now going on in the economy, deep doubts, very deep doubts—thanks to Occupation, it’s crystallized—but this other trend of saying, “What do you want? Where are we going?” in some ways to democratize the economy in a very American way, something very—you can explain to your neighbors, this is—this makes sense, in these cities that I’ve been talking about. You get a whole larger coalition of people understanding there’s a hell of a lot of pain here, we can develop something here that moves us in a direction of democratizing local economies and beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Gar Alperovitz, the name of your book, America Beyond Capitalism. Do you think that’s possible in this country?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, I’m a—you know, I’m a historian and a political economist. Changes of major kinds, if you look at decade-by-decade development, fundamental systemic change is as common as grass in world history. A lot of pain. But I think an America beyond capitalism is a real possibility. Again, if you stand back, the way the civil rights folks did—my heroes are the civil rights leaders in the 1930s and ’40s, the ones who laid the basis for the big change that came in the ’60s, and I think that’s the way to understand what’s going on at the grassroots level and the sort of things that Occupation has been teaching us. Get in there now and begin to develop that base and that foundation for the transformation.


Painting by Anthony Freda www.AnthonyFreda.com

a HOLIDAY OPPORTUNITY
http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/find-bankcredit-union
http://www.findacreditunion.org/
http://www.asmarterhoice.org/

BANK TRANSFER DAY
http://thinkprogress.org/special/2011/11/03/360804/650000-americans-credit-unions/
650,000 Americans Joined Credit Unions Last Month — More Than In All Of 2010 Combined
by Zaid Jilani on Nov 3, 2011

One of the tactics the 99 Percenters are using to take back the country from the 1 percent is to move their money from big banks to credit unions, community banks, and other smaller financial unions that aren’t gambling with our nation’s future. Now, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that a whopping 650,000 Americans have joined credit unions since Sept. 29 — the date that Bank of America announced it would start charging a $5 monthly debit fee, a move it backed down on this week. To put that in perspective, there were only 600,000 new members for credit unions in all of 2010. “These results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings,” said CUNA President Bill Cheney. This Saturday, 99 Percenters are calling on Americans to move their money from big banks to credit unions and community banks on what is being called “Bank Transfer Day.” If you want to stand with the 99 Percent and take part in this action, use the Move Your Money project’s community bank and credit union finder tool to find out how.

http://www.cuna.org/public/press/press-release/issues/hundreds-thousands-of-consumers-billions-of-$$-move-credit-unions
http://www.americanbanker.com/issues/176_214/customers-flee-for-credit-unions-1043783-1.html
Bank Customers Flee to CUs
by Ed Roberts / 11.3.2011

An estimated 650,000 consumers have closed their bank accounts and opted for credit union membership over the past four weeks, according to CUNA, bringing the approach to Saturday’s Bank Transfer Day to a crescendo. In a survey of 5,000 of its credit union members CUNA estimates that at least 650,000 consumers across the nation have joined credit unions since Sept. 29, the day Bank of America unveiled its now-rescinded $5 monthly debit card fee. Also during that time, CUNA estimates that credit unions have added $4.5 billion in new savings accounts, likely from the new members and existing members shifting their funds. The survey results also show that more than four in every five credit unions experiencing member growth since Sept. 29 attributed the growth to consumer reaction to new fees imposed by banks, or a combination of consumer reactions to the new bank fees plus the social media-inspired “Bank Transfer Day,” Nov. 5. “These results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings.” said CUNA President Bill Cheney. Cheney said the growth is particularly noticeable at larger credit unions (those with $100 million or more in assets, which account for about 20% of all credit unions – but count about 80% of all credit union members). The CUNA survey shows that more than 70% of these credit unions reported they have seen growth in memberships and deposits since Sept. 29.

HOW to JOIN a CREDIT UNION
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/11/how-to-move-money-big-banks-credit
How Do I Move My Money Out of a Big Bank?
by Josh Harkinson / Nov. 3, 2011

Saturday is the deadline for Bank Transfer Day, the call for a mass money exodus from big banks to credit unions and small community banks. Over 80,000 have pledged online to punish “too big to fail” banks by withdrawing their funds. Still on the fence? Wondering where to start? We’ve got a handy primer below on how it works, and check out what happened when MoJo reporter Josh Harkinson tried moving his money out of Wells Fargo.

Why would I want to move my money out of my existing bank?
You’ll probably save money in the long run. According to a 2009 year study by the Filene Research Institute, the average credit union account holder paid $71.47 in annual fees, compared to $183.14 paid by the typical bank customer. And new restrictions on debit card fees imposed last month by the Dodd-Frank Act have sent banks scrambling for even more ways to nickel and dime their customers in pursuit of profits. Nonprofit credit unions, on the other hand, only need to break even. They also tend to plow their money into back into basic loans in their own communities, instead of dabbling in the kind of complex and risky securitized investments that caused large banks to go bust and drag down the economy. It’s important to note that credit unions and small local banks aren’t recession-proof: a striking 17 percent of Florida’s bank failures since 2008 were community banks.
What’s the process?
Don’t expect to be able to open a credit union account and close your old bank account in one day. You’ll need to receive new checks and a debit card in the mail, switch over any automated deposits and electronic bill paying services, and wait for pending financial transactions to clear. Only then should you give your old bank the boot. Here’s a searchable map that locates credit unions near you.
How long does it take?
You’ll probably need to wait one or two weeks to get a debit card and checks in the mail, though some credit unions will issue you temporary versions. Besides that, it’s just a matter of finding the time to switch over your bills.
Aren’t credit unions less convenient than big banks?
Not necessarily. While individual credit unions typically have fewer branches than corporate banks, many participate in “shared branching,” allowing customers to make a deposit or withdrawal at other participating credit unions. Also, many credit unions have implemented advanced online banking options including direct-deposit, online bill-pay, and mobile banking using your cell phone.
What about ATMs?
Ask your local credit union if it’s a member of the Co-op Network. Customers at credit unions in the network can use a smart phone app to find any one of 24,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. “You actually get access to more fee-free ATMs than if you were at Bank of America,” says Ben Rogers, research director for the Filene Research Institute, a think tank that studies Credit Unions. Some Credit Unions will even refund any fees that you rack up using other banks’ ATMs.
If everyone moves their money out of big banks, how much money do the banks stand to lose?
Currently, total deposits for all banks and savings and loans, including personal and business accounts, come to $7.5 trillion.
Are big banks freaking out over this?
Most big banks rely on their vast numbers of personal checking and savings accounts to shore up their cash reserves and make lucrative investments. “If everybody moved their money, it would make a huge difference,” Rogers says. Still, the nearly 80,000 people who’ve made online pledges to join Bank Transfer Day probably won’t cause bankers to break a sweat—at least not yet. Add another 400,000 of them, and “you’d get not just frowns, but maybe gasps in the board room.”
How are credit unions benefiting from this?
Credit unions across the country have added upwards of 650,000 new customers since September 29 (the day Bank of America unveiled its now-defunct $5 monthly fee for debit cards), according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association. The group also estimates that credit unions have added $4.5 billion in new savings since then, likely from these new members and transfers from other banks. But CUNA spokesman Patrick Keefe says these numbers barely move the needle for big banks: “It’s actually a drop in the ocean for them. They are huge.”
Is there any scenario in which my big bank actually benefits if I do this?
Yes and no. If you have about $400 in a savings account and average about $1000 in a checking account and have nothing else with your bank, then you’re probably what your bank would call an “unprofitable customer.” But most banks want to keep unprofitable customers onboard in hopes of later cross-selling them on credit cards and loans. “I don’t think that there’s a ton of banks actively smiling and smirking because they are scaring away all these unprofitable customers,” Rogers says. “Nobody really wants to lose customers.”



“EXODUS”
http://techpresident.com/blog-entry/mass-exodus-big-banks-organizing-online
Mass Exodus from Big Banks is Organizing Online
by Nick Judd / November 2, 2011

Over 35,000 people have indicated support on Facebook for a mass Nov. 5 exodus of personal bank accounts from big banks and into credit unions, called “Bank Transfer Day” — one of several online groups with the same basic message, popularized by Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street and others, and just the latest in a series of ground-up actions protesting the practices of big banks. These online efforts trace their origin back to news from September, in response to new provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law that would limit the amounts that banks could charge merchants for the use of debit cards. News broke at the time that banks would seek instead to pass the fees along to customers in the form of monthly charges for the use of the cards. As anger at a new fee during tough economic times met the current direct-action national zeitgeist, fueled by Occupy Wall Street, initiatives began to spring up online.

The “Bank Transfer Day” Facebook page belongs to an L.A. gallery owner named Kristen Christian, but the idea might actually be the brainchild of Arianna Huffington, who floated the idea in 2009 as a response to financial institutions not lending much of the money they received from the federal bank bailout. That call to action didn’t make a lasting splash at the time, but has found new life. From Santa Cruz to New Mexico to Wisconsin, credit unions are reporting an uptick in new accounts. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, on the occasion of Bank of America’s announcement yesterday that it would not impose a planned $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases, said that over 51,000 have pledged through their platform to move their money from big banks, including 21,500 from Bank of America. PCCC co-founder Adam Green also wrote in an email that the wired progressive group plans to release an online tool, “Banxodus,” that will help people find “good-guy” banks near them.

Yesterday was a big day for online organizing against big-bank behavior. Also on occasion of the Bank of America announcement, Change.org released an announcement pointing to a 300,000-signatory petition hosted on their online petitions platform. “Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will drop its $5 debit card fee after more than 300,000 people from all 50 states joined a viral campaign on Change.org started by 22-year-old Bank of America customer Molly Katchpole,” Change.org proclaimed in a press release sent yesterday. Katchpole is enjoying national media attention, but her online petition also came amid a nationwide upheaval against the current structure of the financial services industry — and with droves of people actually taking their money away from Bank of America.

Bank of America officials said in a statement that customer input was the reason they canceled their plans. Decisions by JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo to walk back their own debit card fees came last week. “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” David Darnell, Bank of America’s co-chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.” The fee reversal may have come too late for Bank of America. Local newspapers across the country are full of stories like this one, from the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette:

For many months, Sean J. McLoughlin considered leaving Bank of America and switching to a bank that didn’t charge him fees just for having checking accounts. When Bank of America said in September it would charge customers $5 a month for using debit cards, his decision to leave the big bank became easier. “I said ‘Forget it, I’m done,’ ” he said.

TOO BIG to JAIL?
http://www.zerohedge.com/contributed/only-way-save-economy-break-giant-insolvent-banks
The Government Created the Giant Banks

As MIT economics professor and former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson points out, the official White House position is that:

(1) The government created the mega-giants, and they are not the product of free market competition

(2) The White House needs to “regulate and oversee them”, even though it is clear that the government has no real plans to regulate or oversee the banking behemoths

(3) Giant banks are good for the economy

This is false … giant banks are incredibly destructive for the economy.

We Do NOT Need the Big Banks to Help the Economy Recover

Do we need the Too Big to Fails to help the economy recover?

No.

The following top economists and financial experts believe that the economy cannot recover unless the big, insolvent banks are broken up in an orderly fashion:

  • Dean and professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School, and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, R. Glenn Hubbard
  • The leading monetary economist and co-author with Milton Friedman of the leading treatise on the Great Depression, Anna Schwartz
  • Economics professor and senior regulator during the S & L crisis, William K. Black
  • Professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Chicago Booth School of Business, Luigi Zingales

Others, like Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, think that the giant insolvent banks may need to be temporarily nationalized.

In addition, many top economists and financial experts, including Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer – who was Ben Bernanke’s thesis adviser at MIT – say that – at the very least – the size of the financial giants should be limited.

Even the Bank of International Settlements – the “Central Banks’ Central Bank” – has slammed too big to fail. As summarized by the Financial Times:

The report was particularly scathing in its assessment of governments’ attempts to clean up their banks. “The reluctance of officials to quickly clean up the banks, many of which are now owned in large part by governments, may well delay recovery,” it said, adding that government interventions had ingrained the belief that some banks were too big or too interconnected to fail.

This was dangerous because it reinforced the risks of moral hazard which might lead to an even bigger financial crisis in future.

And as I noted in December 2008, the big banks are the major reason why sovereign debt has become a crisis:

 BIS points out in a new report that the bank rescue packages have transferred significant risks onto government balance sheets, which is reflected in the corresponding widening of sovereign credit default swaps:

The scope and magnitude of the bank rescue packages also meant that significant risks had been transferred onto government balance sheets. This was particularly apparent in the market for CDS referencing sovereigns involved either in large individual bank rescues or in broad-based support packages for the financial sector, including the United States. While such CDS were thinly traded prior to the announced rescue packages, spreads widened suddenly on increased demand for credit protection, while corresponding financial sector spreads tightened.

In other words, by assuming huge portions of the risk from banks trading in toxic derivatives, and by spending trillions that they don’t have, central banks have put their countries at risk from default.

Similarly, a study of 124 banking crises by the International Monetary Fund found that propping banks which are only pretending to be solvent hurts the economy:

Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance.

Cross-country analysis to date also shows that accommodative policy measures (such as substantial liquidity support, explicit government guarantee on financial institutions’ liabilities and forbearance from prudential regulations) tend to befiscally costly and that these particular policies do not necessarily accelerate the speed of economic recovery.

***

All too often, central banks privilege stability over cost in the heat of the containment phase: if so, they may too liberally extend loans to an illiquid bank which is almost certain to prove insolvent anyway. Also, closure of a nonviable bank is often delayed for too long, even when there are clear signs of insolvency (Lindgren, 2003). Since bank closures face many obstacles, there is a tendency to rely instead on blanket government guarantees which, if the government’s fiscal and political position makes them credible, can work albeit at the cost of placing the burden on the budget, typically squeezing future provision of needed public services.

The big banks have been bailed out to the tune of many trillions, dragging the economy down a bottomless pit from which we can’t escape. See thisthisthis and this. Unless we break them up, we will never escape.

If We Break Up the Giants, Smaller Banks Will Thrive … And Loan More to Main Street

Do we need to keep the TBTFs to make sure that loans are made?

Nope.

USA Today points out:

Banks that received federal assistance during the financial crisis reduced lending more aggressively and gave bigger pay raises to employees than institutions that didn’t get aid, a USA TODAY/American University review found.

***

The amount of loans outstanding to businesses and individuals fell 9.1% for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2009, at banks that participated in TARP compared with a 6.2% drop at banks that didn’t.

Dennis Santiago – CEO and Managing Director of Institutional Risk Analytics (Chris Whalen’s company) – notes:

The really shocking numbers are in the unused line of credit commitments of banks to U.S. business. This is the canary number I like to look at because it is a direct expression of banking and finance confidence in Main Street industry. It’s gone from $92 billion in Dec -2007 to just $24 billion as of Sep-2010. More importantly, the vast majority of this contraction of credit availability to American industry has been by the larger banks, C&I LOC from $87B down to $18.8B by the institutions with assets over $10B. Poof!

Fortune reports that smaller banks are stepping in to fill the lending void left by the giant banks’ current hesitancy to make loans. Indeed, the article points out that the only reason that smaller banks haven’t been able to expand and thrive is that the too-big-to-fails have decreased competition:

Growth for the nation’s smaller banks represents a reversal of trends from the last twenty years, when the biggest banks got much bigger and many of the smallest players were gobbled up or driven under…

As big banks struggle to find a way forward and rising loan losses threaten to punish poorly run banks of all sizes, smaller but well capitalized institutions have a long-awaited chance to expand.

BusinessWeek notes:

As big banks struggle, community banks are stepping in to offer loans and lines of credit to small business owners…

At a congressional hearing on small business and the economic recovery earlier this month, economist Paul Merski, of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington (D.C.) trade group, told lawmakers that community banks make 20% of all small-business loans, even though they represent only about 12% of all bank assets. Furthermore, he said that about 50% of all small-business loans under $100,000 are made by community banks…

Indeed, for the past two years, small-business lending among community banks has grown at a faster rate than from larger institutions, according to Aite Group, a Boston banking consultancy. “Community banks are quickly taking on more market share not only from the top five banks but from some of the regional banks,” says Christine Barry, Aite’s research director. “They are focusing more attention on small businesses than before. They are seeing revenue opportunities and deploying the right solutions in place to serve these customers.”

Fed Governor Daniel K. Tarullo said:

The importance of traditional financial intermediation services, and hence of the smaller banks that typically specialize in providing those services, tends to increase during times of financial stress. Indeed, the crisis has highlighted the important continuing role of community banks…

For example, while the number of credit unions has declined by 42 percent since 1989, credit union deposits have more than quadrupled, and credit unions have increased their share of national deposits from 4.7 percent to 8.5 percent. In addition, some credit unions have shifted from the traditional membership based on a common interest to membership that encompasses anyone who lives or works within one or more local banking markets. In the last few years, some credit unions have also moved beyond their traditional focus on consumer services to provide services to small businesses, increasing the extent to which they compete with community banks.

Thomas M. Hoenig pointed out in a speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce summit in Washington:

During the recent financial crisis, losses quickly depleted the capital of these large, over-leveraged companies. As expected, these firms were rescued using government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The result was an immediate reduction in lending to Main Street, as the financial institutions tried to rebuild their capital. Although these institutions have raised substantial amounts of new capital, much of it has been used to repay the TARP funds instead of supporting new lending.

On the other hand, Hoenig pointed out:

In 2009, 45 percent of banks with assets under $1 billion increased their business lending.

45% is about 45% more  than the amount of increased lending by the too big to fails.

Indeed, some very smart people say that the big banks aren’t really focusing as much on the lending business as smaller banks.

Specifically since Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, the giant banks have made much of their money in trading assets, securities, derivatives and other speculative bets, the banks’ own paper and securities, and in other money-making activities which have nothing to do with traditional depository functions.

Now that the economy has crashed, the big banks are making very few loans to consumers or small businesses because theystill have trillions in bad derivatives gambling debts to pay off, and so they are only loaning to the biggest players and those who don’t really need credit in the first place. See this and this.

So we don’t really need these giant gamblers. We don’t reallyneed JP Morgan, Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. What we need are dedicated lenders.

The Fortune article discussed above points out that the banking giants are not necessarily more efficient than smaller banks:

The largest banks often don’t show the greatest efficiency. This now seems unsurprising given the deep problems that the biggest institutions have faced over the past year.

“They actually experience diseconomies of scale,” Narter wrote of the biggest banks. “There are so many large autonomous divisions of the bank that the complexity of connecting them overwhelms the advantage of size.”

And Governor Tarullo points out some of the benefits of small community banks over the giant banks:

Many community banks have thrived, in large part because their local presence and personal interactions give them an advantage in meeting the financial needs of many households, small businesses, and agricultural firms. Their business model is based on an important economic explanation of the role of financial intermediaries–to develop and apply expertise that allows a lender to make better judgments about the creditworthiness of potential borrowers than could be made by a potential lender with less information about the borrowers.

A small, but growing, body of research suggests that the financial services provided by large banks are less-than-perfect substitutes for those provided by community banks.

It is simply not true that we need the mega-banks. In fact, as many top economists and financial analysts have said, the “too big to fails” are actually stifling competition from smaller lenders and credit unions, and dragging the entire economy down into a black hole.

The Failure to Break Up the Big Banks Is Causing Rampant Fraud


Top economists and experts on fraud say that fraud is not only widespread, it is actually the business model adopted by the giant banks. See thisthisthisthisthis and this.

In addition, Richard Alford – former New York Fed economist, trading floor economist and strategist – showed that banks that get too big benefit from “information asymmetry” which disrupts the free market.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted in September that giants like Goldman are using their size to manipulate the market:

“The main problem that Goldman raises is a question of size: ‘too big to fail.’ In some markets, they have a significant fraction of trades. Why is that important? They trade both on their proprietary desk and on behalf of customers. When you do that and you have a significant fraction of all trades, you have a lot of information.”

Further, he says, “That raises the potential of conflicts of interest, problems of front-running, using that inside information for your proprietary desk. And that’s why the Volcker report came out and said that we need to restrict the kinds of activity that these large institutions have. If you’re going to trade on behalf of others, if you’re going to be a commercial bank, you can’t engage in certain kinds of risk-taking behavior.”

The giants (especially Goldman Sachs) have also used high-frequency program trading which not only distorted the markets– making up more than 70% of stock trades – but which also let the program trading giants take a sneak peak at what the real (aka “human”) traders are buying and selling, and then trade on the insider information. See thisthisthisthis and this. (This is frontrunning, which is illegal; but it is a lot bigger than garden variety frontrunning, because the program traders are not only trading based on inside knowledge of what their own clients are doing, they are also trading based on knowledge of what all other traders are doing).

Goldman also admitted that its proprietary trading program can “manipulate the markets in unfair ways”. The giant banks have also allegedly used their Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group (CRMPG) to exchange secret information and formulate coordinated mutually beneficial actions, all with thegovernment’s blessings.

In other words, a handful of giants doing it, it can manipulate the entire economy in ways which are not good for the American citizen.

The Failure to Break Up the Big Banks Is Dooming Us to a Derivatives Depression

All independent experts agree that unless we rein in derivatives, will have another – bigger – financial crisis.

But the big banks are preventing derivatives from being tamed.

We have also pointed out that derivatives are still very dangerous for the economy, that the derivatives “reform” legislation previously passed has probably actually weakenedexisting regulations, and the legislation was “probably written by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs“.

As I noted last year

Harold Bradley – who oversees almost $2 billion in assets as chief investment officer at the Kauffman Foundation – told the Reuters Global Exchanges and Trading Summit in New York that a cabal is preventing swap derivatives from being forced onto clearing exchanges:

There is no incentive from the moneyed interests in either Washington or New York to change it…

I believe we are in a cabal. There are five or six players only who are engaged and dominant in this marketplace and apparently they own the regulatory apparatus. Everybody is afraid to regulate them.

That’s bad enough.

But Bob Litan of the Brookings Institute wrote a paper (here’s asummary) showing that – even if real derivatives legislation is ever passed – the 5 big derivatives players will still prevent any real change. James Kwak notes that Litan is no radical, but has previously written in defense in financial “innovation”.

Here’s a good summary from Rortybomb, showing that this is yet another reason to break up the too big to fails:

Litan is worried about the “Dealer’s Club” of the major derivatives players. I particularly like this paper as the best introduction to the current oligarchy that takes place in the very profitable over-the-counter derivatives trading market and credit default swap market. [Litton says]:

I have written this essay primarily to call attention to the main impediments to meaningful reform: the private actors who now control the trading of derivatives and all key elements of the infrastructure of derivatives trading, the major dealer banks. The importance of this “Derivatives Dealers’ Club” cannot be overstated. All end-users who want derivatives products, CDS in particular, must transact with dealer banks…I will argue that the major dealer banks have strong financial incentives and the ability to delay or impede changes from the status quo — even if the legislative reforms that are now being widely discussed are adopted — that would make the CDS and eventually other derivatives markets safer and more transparent for all concerned…

Here, of course, I refer to the major derivatives dealers – the top 5 dealer-banks that control virtually all of the dealer-to-dealer trades in CDS, together with a few others that participate with the top 5 in other institutions important to the derivatives market. Collectively, these institutions have the ability and incentive, if not counteracted by policy intervention, to delay, distort or impede clearing, exchange trading and transparency

Market-makers make the most profit, however, as long as they can operate as much in the dark as is possible – so that customers don’t know the true going prices, only the dealers do. This opacity allows the dealers to keep spreads high…

In combination, these various market institutions – relating to standardization, clearing and pricing – have incentives not to rock the boat, and not to accelerate the kinds of changes that would make the derivatives market safer and more transparent. The common element among all of these institutions is strong participation, if not significant ownership, by the major dealers.

So Bob Litan is waving a giant red flag that the top dealer-banks that control the CDS market can more or less, through a variety of means he lays out convincingly in the paper, derail or significantly slow down CDS reform after the fact if it passes.

***

If you thought we’d at least get our arms around credit default swap reform from a financial reform bill, you should read this report from Litan as a giant warning flag. In case you weren’t sure if you’ve heard anyone directly lay out the case on how the market and political concentration in the United States banking sector hurts consumers and increases systemic risk through both political pressures and anticompetitive levels of control of the institutions of the market, now you have. It’s not Matt Taibbi, but it’s much further away from a “everything is actually fine and the Treasury is in control of reform” reassurance. Which should scare you, and give you yet another good reason for size caps for the major banks.

53246864840716464 2380196514216991388?l=georgewashington2.blogspot The Only Way to Save the Economy:  Break Up the Giant, Insolvent BanksMoreover, the big banks are still dumping huge amounts of their toxic derivatives on the taxpayer. And see this.

Why Aren’t They Be Broken Up?

So what is the real reason that the TBTFs aren’t being broken up?

Certainly, there is regulatory capture, cowardice and corruption:

  • Joseph Stiglitz (the Nobel prize winning economist) said recently that the U.S. government is wary of challenging the financial industry because it is politically difficult, and that he hopes the Group of 20 leaders will cajole the U.S. into tougher action
  • Economic historian Niall Ferguson asks:

    Guess which institutions are among the biggest lobbyists and campaign-finance contributors? Surprise! None other than the TBTFs [too big to fails].

  • Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas agrees:

    The too-big-to-fail financial industry has been good to elected officials and former elected officials of both parties over its 25-year life span

  • Investment analyst and financial writer Yves Smith says:

    Major financial players [have gained] control over the all-important over-the-counter debt markets…It is pretty hard to regulate someone who has a knife at your throat.

  • William K. Black says:

    There has been no honest examination of the crisis because it would embarrass C.E.O.s and politicians . . .Instead, the Treasury and the Fed are urging us not to examine the crisis and to believe that all will soon be well. There have been no prosecutions of the chief executives of the large nonprime lenders that would expose the “epidemic” of fraudulent mortgage lending that drove the crisis. There has been no accountability…

    The Obama administration and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have refused to investigate the nature and causes of the crisis. And the administration selected Timothy Geithner, who with then Treasury Secretary Paulson bungled the bailout of A.I.G. and other favored “too big to fail” institutions, to head up Treasury.

    Now Lawrence Summers, head of the White House National Economic Council, and Mr. Geithner argue that no fundamental change in finance is needed. They want to recreate a secondary market in the subprime mortgages that caused trillions of dollars of losses.

    Traditional neo-classical economic theory, particularly “modern finance theory,” has been proven false but economists have failed to replace it. No fundamental reform can be passed when the proponents are pretending that there really is no crisis or need for change.

  • Harvard professor of government Jeffry A. Frieden says:

    Regulatory agencies are often sympathetic to the industries they regulate. This pattern is so well known among scholars that it has a name: “regulatory capture.” This effect can be due to the political influence of the industry on its regulators; or to the fact that the regulators spend so much time with their charges that they come to accept their world view; or to the prospect of lucrative private-sector jobs when regulators retire or resign.

  • Economic consultant Edward Harrison agrees:Regulating Wall Street has become difficult in large part because of regulatory capture.

But there is an even more interesting reason . . .

The number one reason the TBTF’s aren’t being broken up is [drumroll] . . . the ‘ole 80?s playbook is being used.

As the New York Times wrote in February:

In the 1980s, during the height of the Latin American debt crisis, the total risk to the nine money-center banks in New York was estimated at more than three times the capital of those banks. The regulators, analysts say, did not force the banks to value those loans at the fire-sale prices of the moment, helping to avert a disaster in the banking system.

In other words, the nine biggest banks were all insolvent in the 1980s.

Indeed, Richard C. Koo – former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and doctoral fellow with the Fed’s Board of Governors, and now chief economist for Nomura –confirmed this fact last year in a speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Specifically, Koo said that -after the Latin American crisis hit in 1982 – the New York Fed concluded that 7 out of 8 money center banks were actually “underwater” and “bankrupt”, but that the Fed hid that fact from the American people.

So the government’s failure to break up the insolvent giants – even though virtually all independent experts say that is the only way to save the economy, and even though there is no good reason not to break them up – is nothing new.

William K. Black’s statement that the government’s entire strategy now – as in the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are (“the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts”) makes a lot more sense.

GROW YR OWN MICROBIAL SLAVE ARMY
http://news.discovery.com/tech/bacteria-salt-water-make-hydrogen-fuel-.html
Bacteria, Salt Water Make Hydrogen Fuel
by Jesse Emspak / Sep 21, 2011

The ‘hydrogen economy’ requires a lot of things, but first is an easy and cheap supply of hydrogen. There are lots of ways to make it, but most of them don’t produce large quantities quickly or inexpensively.  Professor Bruce Logan, director of the Hydrogen to Energy Center at Penn State University, has found a way to change that. He used a process called reverse electrodialysis, combined with some ordinary bacteria to get hydrogen out of water by breaking up its molecules. Water — which is made of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen — can be broken down with electricity. (This is a pretty common high school science experiment). The problem is that you need to pump a lot of energy into the water to break the molecules apart.

Logan thought there had to be a better way. He combined two methods of making electricity — one from microbial fuel cell research and the other from reverse electrodialysis. In a microbial fuel cell, bacteria eat organic molecules and during digestion, release electrons. In a reverse electrodialysis setup, a chamber is separated by a stack of membranes that allow charged particles, or ions, to move in only one direction. Filling the chamber with salt water on one side and fresher water on the other causes ions to try and move to the fresher side. That movement creates a voltage. Adding more membranes increases the voltage, but at a certain point it becomes unwieldy. By putting the bacteria in the side of the reverse electrodialysis chamber with the fresh water, and using only 11 membranes, Logan was able to generate enough voltage to generate hydrogen. Ordinarily he would need to generate about 0.414 volts. With this system, he can get .8 volts, nearly double. (The microbial part of the cell generates 0.3 volts and the RED system creates about 0.5.)

Using seawater, some less salty wastewater with sewage or other organic matter in it and the bacteria, Logan’s apparatus can produce about 1.6 cubic meters of hydrogen for every cubic meter of liquid through the system of chambers and membranes. Another bonus is that less energy goes into pumping the water — if anything, flow rates and pressure have to be kept relatively low so as not to damage the membranes.  Making hydrogen cheaper is a necessity if hydrogen cars are to be a reality. Some car companies already make hydrogen-powered models. The state of Hawaii is already experimenting with hydrogen fuel systems. Producing cheaper, abundant hydrogen — especially from sewer water and seawater — is a big step in that direction.

LIMITLESS
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14976893
Harvesting ‘limitless’ hydrogen from self-powered cells
by Mark Kinver / 20 September 2011

US researchers say they have demonstrated how cells fueled by bacteria can be “self-powered” and produce a limitless supply of hydrogen. Until now, they explained, an external source of electricity was required in order to power the process. However, the team added, the current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially. Details of the findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There are bacteria that occur naturally in the environment that are able to release electrons outside of the cell, so they can actually produce electricity as they are breaking down organic matter,” explained co-author Bruce Logan, from Pennsylvania State University, US. “We use those microbes, particularly inside something called a microbial fuel cell (MFC), to generate electrical power. “We can also use them in this device, where they need a little extra power to make hydrogen gas. “What that means is that they produce this electrical current, which are electrons, they release protons in the water and these combine with electrons.”

Prof Logan said that the technology to utilize this process to produce hydrogen was called microbial electrolysis cell (MEC). “The breakthrough here is that we do not need to use an electrical power source anymore to provide a little energy into the system. “All we need to do is add some fresh water and some salt water and some membranes, and the electrical potential that is there can provide that power.” The MECs use something called “reverse electrodialysis” (RED), which refers to the energy gathered from the difference in salinity, or salt content, between saltwater and freshwater.

In their paper, Prof Logan and colleague Younggy Kim explained how an envisioned RED system would use alternating stacks of membranes that harvest this energy; the movement of charged atoms move from the saltwater to freshwater creates a small voltage that can be put to work. “This is the crucial element of the latest research,” Prof Logan told BBC News, explaining the process of their system, known as a microbial reverse-electrodialysis electrolysis cell (MREC). “If you think about desalinating water, it takes energy. If you have a freshwater and saltwater interface, that can add energy. We realized that just a little bit of that energy could make this process go on its own.”

Artistic representation of hydrogen molecules (Image: Science Photo Library)

He said that the technology was still in its infancy, which was one of the reasons why it was not being exploited commercially. “Right now, it is such a new technology,” he explained. “In a way it is a little like solar power. We know we can convert solar energy into electricity but it has taken many years to lower the cost. “This is a similar thing: it is a new technology and it could be used, but right now it is probably a little expensive. So the question is, can we bring down the cost?” The next step, Prof Logan explained, was to develop larger-scale cells: “Then it will easier to evaluate the costs and investment needed to use the technology. The authors acknowledged that hydrogen had “significant potential as an efficient energy carrier”, but it had been dogged with high production costs and environmental concerns, because it is most often produced using fossil fuels.

Prof Logan observed: “We use hydrogen for many, many things. It is used in making [petrol], it is used in foods etc. Whether we use it in transportation… remains to be seen.” But, the authors wrote that their findings offered hope for the future: “This unique type of integrated system has significant potential to treat wastewater and simultaneously produce [hydrogen] gas without any consumption of electrical grid energy.” Prof Logan added that a working example of a microbial fuel cell was currently on display at London’s Science Museum, as part of the Water Wars exhibition.


Bacterial hydrolysis cell with reverse electrodialysis stack

a FEW GRAINS Of SALT
http://live.psu.edu/story/55172
‘Inexhaustible’ source of hydrogen may be unlocked by salt water / September 19, 2011

A grain of salt or two may be all that microbial electrolysis cells need to produce hydrogen from wastewater or organic byproducts, without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere or using grid electricity, according to Penn State engineers. “This system could produce hydrogen anyplace that there is wastewater near sea water,” said Bruce E. Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering. “It uses no grid electricity and is completely carbon neutral. It is an inexhaustible source of energy.” Microbial electrolysis cells that produce hydrogen are the basis of this recent work, but previously, to produce hydrogen, the fuel cells required some electrical input. Now, Logan, working with postdoctoral fellow Younggy Kim, is using the difference between river water and seawater to add the extra energy needed to produce hydrogen. Their results, published in the Sept. 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “show that pure hydrogen gas can efficiently be produced from virtually limitless supplies of seawater and river water and biodegradable organic matter.”

Logan’s cells were between 58 and 64 percent efficient and produced between 0.8 to 1.6 cubic meters of hydrogen for every cubic meter of liquid through the cell each day. The researchers estimated that only about 1 percent of the energy produced in the cell was needed to pump water through the system. The key to these microbial electrolysis cells is reverse-electrodialysis or RED that extracts energy from the ionic differences between salt water and fresh water. A RED stack consists of alternating ion exchange membranes — positive and negative — with each RED contributing additively to the electrical output. “People have proposed making electricity out of RED stacks,” said Logan. “But you need so many membrane pairs and are trying to drive an unfavorable reaction.” For RED technology to hydrolyze water — split it into hydrogen and oxygen — requires 1.8 volts, which would in practice require about 25 pairs of membranes and increase pumping resistance. However, combining RED technology with exoelectrogenic bacteria — bacteria that consume organic material and produce an electric current — reduced the number of RED stacks to five membrane pairs.

Previous work with microbial electrolysis cells showed that they could, by themselves, produce about 0.3 volts of electricity, but not the 0.414 volts needed to generate hydrogen in these fuel cells. Adding less than 0.2 volts of outside electricity released the hydrogen. Now, by incorporating 11 membranes — five membrane pairs that produce about 0.5 volts — the cells produce hydrogen. “The added voltage that we need is a lot less than the 1.8 volts necessary to hydrolyze water,” said Logan. “Biodegradable liquids and cellulose waste are abundant and with no energy in and hydrogen out we can get rid of wastewater and by-products. This could be an inexhaustible source of energy.” Logan and Kim’s research used platinum as a catalyst on the cathode, but subsequent experimentation showed that a non-precious metal catalyst, molybdenum sulfide, had 51 percent energy efficiency.

CONTACT
Bruce Logan
http://www.engr.psu.edu/ce/enve/logan/
email : blogan [at] psu [dot] edu

WASTEWATER
http://www.fastcompany.com/1775321/coming-soon-wastewater-batteries-that-could-power-your-house
Batteries That Run On (And Clean) Used Toilet Water
by Ariel Schwartz / Aug 22, 2011

Humans should have a little more respect for dirty toilet water. In recent years, wastewater has become something of a commodity, with nuclear plants paying for treated wastewater to run their facilities, cities relying on so-called “toilet to tap” technology, and breweries turning wastewater into biogas that can be used to power their facilities. Soon enough, wastewater-powered batteries may even keep the lights on in your house or, at the very least, in the industrial plants that clean the wastewater.

Environmental engineer Bruce Logan is developing microbial fuel cells that rely on wastewater bacteria’s desire to munch on organic waste. When these bacteria eat the waste, electrons are released as a byproduct–and Logan’s fuel cell collects those electrons on carbon bristles, where they can move through a circuit and power everything from light bulbs to ceiling fans. Logan’s microbial fuel cells can produce both electrical power and hydrogen, meaning the cells could one day be used to juice up hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Logan’s fuel cells aren’t overly expensive. “In the early reactors, we used very expensive graphite rods and expensive polymers and precious metals like platinum. And we’ve now reached the point where we don’t have to use any precious metals,” he explained to the National Science Foundation. Microbial fuel cells still don’t produce enough power to be useful in our daily lives, but that may change soon–Logan estimates that the fuel cells will be ready to go in the next five to 10 years, at which point they could power entire wastewater treatment plants and still generate enough electricity to power neighboring towns. There may also be ones that use–and in the process-desalinate–salt water, using just the energy from the bacteria. And if the microbial fuel cells don’t work out, there’s another option: Chinese researchers have developed a photocatalytic fuel cell that uses light (as opposed to microbial cells) to clean wastewater and generate power. That technology is also far from commercialization, but in a few years, filthy water will power its own cleaning facilities one way or another.

http://maps.safecast.org/
http://maps.safecast.org/feedmap
http://maps.safecast.org/submit

SAFECAST
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2011/08/2011810142915166342.html
Citizen group tracks down Japan’s radiation
Amid contradictory government statistics, a volunteer group has recorded 500,000 radiation points across the country.
by Dahr Jamail / 10 Aug 2011

The aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis has been marked by an outcry in Japan over radiation leaks, contaminated food and a government unable to put the public’s fears to rest. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the meltdown that resulted from March’s earthquake–triggered disaster, activists and citizens have said, is the uncertainty that has ensued. In the months since the catastrophe, the Japanese government, its nuclear watchdogs and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), have provided differing, confusing, and at times contradictory, information on critical health issues. Fed up with indefinite data, a group of 50 volunteers decided to take matters, and Geiger counters, into their own hands. In April, an independent network of like-minded individuals in the Japan and United States banded together to form Safecast and began an ongoing crusade to record and publish accurate radiation levels around Japan. The group handed out mobile radiation detectors and uploaded the readings to the internet to map out exposure levels.  Sean Bonner, director of Safecast, told Al Jazeera that volunteers have so far logged more than 500,000 radiation data points across Japan.  He said the group is the only organisation he knows that is tracking radiation on a local level. The findings, Bonner added, have been shocking. “People keep asking how we are doing it, when the government isn’t,” he said.

Lack of information
Dr Yuko Yanagisawa, a 51-year-old physician at Funabashi Futawa Hospital in Chiba Prefecture, feels the government’s response to health concerns has been grossly inadequate. In the area where Yanagisawa lives and works, approximately 200 km from Fukushima, unhealthy radiation levels have been recorded. Even so, she said the only information the government has released was to raise the acceptable radiation exposure limit for children from one millisieverts (mSv) of radioactivity a year to 20. “This has caused controversy, from the medical point of view,” Yanagisawa told Al Jazeera. “This is certainly an issue that involves both personal internal exposures as well as low-dose exposures.” From the start, the government’s track record on public health announcements has been poor. As early radiation readings from the disaster site emerged, Japan’s then-Minister for Internal Affairs, Haraguchi Kazuhiro, alleged that monitoring station data was actually three decimal places greater than the numbers released to the public. In late March, the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission conducted a survey that found an estimated 45 per cent of children in the Fukushima region had experienced thyroid exposure to radiation. But the commission has not carried out any surveys since.


Health specialists say the commission fears a negative public reaction to children’s exposure to radiation from the crippled Fukushima plant.

Contaminated food fears
Recent disclosures from government agencies and TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima plant, suggest that public information has hardly improved. Earlier this month, TEPCO said it detected 10,000 mSv of radioactivity at the heavily damaged plant. A dose this high would be fatal to humans, and was 250 per cent more than the previous high levels at the plant in March soon after the disaster. Authorities have also been vague about the extent of the radiation, and how the potential spread may be affecting vital food crops and livestock. Jyunichi Tokuyama, a specialist with the Iwate Prefecture Agricultural and Fisheries Department, said he was shocked to find radioactive hot spots in his prefecture, more than 300km from the stricken Fukushima nuclear site. “The biggest cause of this contamination is the rice straw being fed to the cows, which was highly radioactive,” Tokuyama told Al Jazeera. On August 1, Iwate became Japan’s forth prefecture to suspend all of its beef exports due to cesium contamination. Neighbouring governments have announced plans to test Japan’s agricultural exports for radioactive cesium after concerns over soil contamination.

‘Not getting the data’
Despite the alarm inside Japan and abroad, specific information about radiation levels and its range are still mostly unavailable. This lack of information is what Safecast is trying to overcome. “We spoke with a woman in Japan on Saturday who said since March she’s been calling her local offices, and the federal government, just trying to get data, and she’s not been able to get a single reading close to her house,” Bonner said. “Part of that is that the information is just not there, the government doesn’t have it. I don’t think they are necessarily withholding, but I think they are just not getting the data.” Bonner said he was disturbed by the readings he took last weekend nearly 28km outside the Fukushima site. The Japanese government maintains a mandatory evacuation zone around the plant that extends to 20km, the next 10km is the voluntary evacuation zone. People who live there are not given any financial compensation by the government if they choose to evacuate. “Sunday [August 7], we found ground contamination of 20,000 cpm,” said Bonner, referring to counts per minute, a method he believes is more accurate in analysing radiation than measuring mSv. “It was about 28km from the plant. There were police officers there standing around all day making sure nobody went into the mandatory evacuation zone, wearing no protective clothing. They said they didn’t know what the readings were, they were just told to be there.” Bonner plans to return monthly and continue with the project “indefinitely”. “Getting into this has showed us there is a lack of data everywhere,” he said. “This week I’m going to start mapping radiation data in California, and we’re going to start getting devices to people around the US and Europe. We’re going to set up fixed sensors and we’re making a device that we’ll sell to the public. We’re hoping to continue to get lots of data from lots of sources.”

Global debate
The Japanese government does not consider non-government readings to be authentic, and has urged the public to only rely on government data on radiation. Bonner said: “Getting into this has showed us there is a lack of data everywhere. We’re going to start getting devices to people around the US and Europe. We’re going to set up fixed sensors and we’re making a device that we’ll sell to the public. We’re hoping to continue to get lots of data from lots of sources.” Bonner’s ambitions appear timely against the backdrop of a revitalised global debate on the dangers of nuclear energy, especially in Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently pledged to lower Japan’s reliance on nuclear power due to the consequences of the Fukushima crisis. He and other officials have admitted to deep concerns about radiation-induced health risks. “Japan will reduce its level of reliance on nuclear power generation with the aim of becoming a society that is not dependent on nuclear power,” Kan said last week in Hiroshima in a speech to mark the 66th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of the city.

New Visualizations

http://maps.safecast.org/drives
http://blog.safecast.org/2011/08/new-visualizations/#more-1273

One of our goals at Safecast, in addition to collecting radiation data, is putting that data into a format that is helpful and useful. If you’ve been following our work for the last few months you’ve seen the map we launched with on day one progress through several evolutions including being split out into several specific purpose versions. We’ve just launched a new revision to these and now have a maps specific URL we’re we’ll keep all the mapping visualizations we’re producing. Please take a look atmaps.safecast.org.

What you’ll see there:
Safecast Map: This depicts over 500,000 radiation data points collected by the Safecast team throughout Japan. For each square, numerous geiger readings have been collected and color-coded. This is our main map and the one we’ll be tweaking and improving on a very regular basis.

Full Data Set Map: While the Safecast Map simplifies the readings into a general grid, the full data set map actually shows you each and every point we’ve collected. It’s very dense, but if you want to drill in this is where you can do it. This collected data set will be available for download in the near future.

Drive Maps: Both of the above maps are based on data we’ve collected driving around with out bGeigie sensors. If you want to see an individual drive on it’s own check out the Drive Maps, you can also download a CSV file for each drive to play with the data yourself.

Fixed Sensor Network: We’ve been working with our partners at Keio University’s Scanning The Earth project to build a network of fixed sensors, and this maps shows the data coming in from those devices we’ve installed out in the field. STE has a great historical visualization of these points, and Yahoo! Japan has just release their own map using the data we’re providing from these devices.

Aggregate Map: We also still have the original Aggregate Map showing all the data we’re scraping from other sources.

http://blog.safecast.org/2011/04/first-safecast/

While these are our newest maps, they are by no means our final versions and we’ll continue to edit and improve these as our work continues – that said we think these are a step forward from our last versions, and hope our next step will be an improvement to these. We know there are some missing legends and a little better explanation of what the colors/points mean and hope to have that up soon, but if you have any other feedback, requests, comments, concerns, etc please let us know.

Our new set up includes two geiger counters (one mounted outside the car, one handheld inside which can also be used if stopped and walking around), a laptop, a GPS module, mobile wifi hotspot and some weather proof casings. Once installed on a car this lets us track a great deal of info and upload it immediately. This is what we’re collecting data wise:

  1. • year-month-day
  2. • hour:minute:second
  3. • CPM (counts-per-minute)*
  4. • Latitude: ddmm.mmmm, dd is integer in degree, mm.mmmm is decimal in
    minute. We can divide mm.mmmm by 60 to get degrees.
  5. • N/S (north/south indicator)
  6. • Longitude: dddmm.mmmm, ddd is integer in degree, mm.mmmm is decimal
    in minute. We can divide mm.mmmm by 60 to get degrees.
  7. • E/W (east/west indicator)
  8. • GPS Quality indicator
  9. • Number of satellites available
  10. • Precision in metres
  11. • Altitude in metres
  12. • GPS Device name
  13. • Measurement type

*The use of CPM is noteworthy since most of the reports are currently using µSv/hr. There is currently a great deal of discussion about which measurement is better or more accurate as µSv/hr doesn’t specify isotopes and can vary based on what is being measured. In our case however the International Medcom Inspector Alert geiger counters that we are using displays both, but output via the connector is CPM. We’re taking note of both and using µSv/hr in discussion but will continue to look into this and evaluate which is a better unit of measurement for these purposes. In this case dividing CPM by 350 gives us µSv/hr.

Our plan has been to install this system into a car and then drive north into Fukushima to elementary, junior high and high schools outside of the evacuation zone and try to get some readings there and along the way. Assuming that worked we’d replicate this set up in several cars so we can cover ground more quickly. For this run we several more hand held counters just to double check the readings and set ups.

#bGeigie -first bento boxed shaped automated geotagging Geiger counter system

On Saturday, April 23rd we gave this the first field test. Japan team members Mauricio, Pieter, Robin and Steve met up at Tokyo Hackerspace first thing in the morning, hooked things up, tested them and hit the road. The Fukushima newspaper printed a radiation map showing readings around the evacuation zone which was you can see had quite a bit of variance so we hoped to get more data to cross reference with this.

#fukushima newspaper Radiation map showing 20km zone and radiation levels. Notice variance on the edges of the zone.

Additionally part of our mission is to distribute equipment to people who can continue to take readings on their own after we’ve left and have them continue to upload data to our site so we will have historical data as well. I’m happy to happy to announce that we did just that with this trip to Koriyama and were able to leave two sensor devices and an iPhone (for uploading images and data to our servers) with a team of volunteers there.

Met volunteers for #safecast.org in koriyama and handed a Geiger counter and geotagging iPhone to start data reporting

As for the actual data we recorded, that was very interesting. We’re in the process of checking the logs (removing duplicate entries and things) and will have it uploaded toour map and pachube shortly so every point we recorded will be visible and available for evaluation by outside parties. Here is photo documentation of some of the readings we took with the handheld devices. All in all we drove for 6.5 hours and measured close to 5000 locations. We measured at the gate of 5 schools in Koriyama.

We took one reading that was considerably higher than all the others:



This was the highest we reading we took, but we consistently measured 20-30µSv/hr on pavements, etc. and 5-10µSv/hr for soil (typically 5-6 for soil) For air measurement, we have very consitent data as it is measured across the entire ride. In Koriyama it was in the range of 1.2 to 2µSv/hr. We had 3 Medcom devices giving consitently the same value and a Gamma Scout that gave same readings for air. This multiple redundancy was to ensure we didn’t have malfunctioning equipment or a calibration error.

To put those numbers into some perspective, on Sunday April 24th we measured 0.089µSv/hr in the air and 0.227µSv/hr on the ground at in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Furthermore in Japan, radiation worker dose limits pre-Fukushima were 100 mSv/yr and the dose limit for normal person is 1 mSv/yr. 50µSv/hr is equivalent to annual dosage of 438 mSv which is more than 4x higher than the limit for nuclear radiation workers.

There are caveats to those numbers of course and as I mentioned the Sievert is the subject of some disagreement in and of itself. Additionally those limits may be focused primarily on high energy gamma, where as our sensors measure alpha and beta which are included in our µSv/hr measurements. Some sensors only measure high energy gamma. Alpha and beta particles are slower and penetrate less so may be considered less dangerous for exposure, but when ingested or inhaled can concentrate in certain organs and cause even more damage than a blast of high energy gamma. In other words, 50µSv/hr on the wall might end up being concentrated into a tiny 1cc square in your thyroid and might end up causing a much more concentrated dose into a particular set of cells than say a 50µSv/hr blast at your body with high energy gamma which would hit all of your cells mostly evenly. Think of the difference between the concentration of radiation used for killing cancer cells vs the wide spread used in an xray. Even that is confusing but we’ve found this infographic to be helpful in understanding different kinds of radiation and doses.

Again we want to make it clear that we are not radiation experts nor health physicists – we aren’t making any claim about how safe, or not, any of these measurements might be – rather we are trying to find and provide data that could be important for residents of these areas so that they can make informed decisions on their own. It’s one thing to be told everything is fine, it’s another thing to have access to the actual measurements and make that decision on your own. That said we are actively looking for experts to help us interpret this data and improve our protocols. If you or someone you know can help us there please get in touch. We expect to continually review and revise our methods as we continue to learn more about this ourselves. This is just the first of many runs we’ll be making in Japan, and with each one we plan to distribute more sensors to help build a clearer picture of what is happening on on ongoing basis.

These efforts have so far been funded by the kindness and donations of a few people but we’re going to need more financial help to keep this up. If you’d like to chip in a few dollars, please check out our kickstarter fundraiser. Thanks so much.

INFORMATION WITHHELD
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/world/asia/09japan.html
by Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler / August 8, 2011

The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate. Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice. The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that. But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity. “From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.” The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”

In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks. Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi. “In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”

In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23. “And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.” The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public. Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.

Too Late
The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.” The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public. “As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister. Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation. At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home. “I want to play outside,” she said. About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.

Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner. On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement. Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere. Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes. And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching. “Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.

The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer. But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated. However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.

A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed. Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels. Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction. “Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”

Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results. In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed. Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.” Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher. “We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.” A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”

Seeds of Mistrust
Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible. Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims. “If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis. After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later. “Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said. The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students. But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials. “The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”

DIY MOBILE AD-HOC WIRELESS MESH NETWORKS (MANETs)
http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4215577/Rutgers-team-proposes-Net-alternative
Rutgers team proposes Net alternative
by Rick Merritt / 4/28/2011

San Jose, Calif. – A team of researchers at Rutgers University have launched the latest of a group of wireless network initiatives aiming to create a more open alternative to the Internet. MondoNet aims to enable a mesh network that lets a hybrid collection of new and existing Wi-Fi, WiMax and other wireless devices connect to each other without going through a central carrier. A draft proposal for MondoNet describes its premise as well as how it will gather the best of existing technologies for mobile ad-hoc wireless mesh networks (MANETs). The project’s goal to create a system that provides both greater freedom and privacy for individual users than today’s Web. Aram Sinnreich, organizer of MondoNet and an associate professor at Rutgers, outlined the proposal in a recent video. Today’s Web is subject to censorship and manipulation due to close links between a handful of carriers and their governments, he said, citing examples in China, Egypt and the U.S. “All the information [on the Internet] has to go through the eye of the needle of a few companies beholden to their governments,” Sinnreich said. “What we need is a new network,” he said. MondoNet aims to be as fast and feature-rich as the Net while being more immune to censorship and spying. Researchers hope to get funding to create a prototype of their concept in the Rutgers area. Many legal and technical challenges remain open, the researchers said. For example, they propose use of tcpcrypt for security, although they admit it is not immune to malicious attacks. It’s also not clear how MANETs will get permission to let users act as broadcasters or what form of licensing MondoNet will use for its software.

The effort aims to adopt techniques from a number of other pioneering efforts in MANETs including:

  • BATMAN: A Better Approach to Mobile ad-hoc Networks launched earlier this year.
  • Babel: A distance vector routing protocol
  • Daihinia: A tool to turn Wi-Fi devices into a mesh network.
  • Freedom Box: A simplified Linux server for distributed networks
  • GNUnet: A software framework for secure peer-to-peer networking


CONTACT
Aram Sinnreich
http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/directory/sinn/index.html
email :sinn [at] rutgers [dot] edu

WEAVING a NEW NET: a MESH-BASED SOLUTION
http://www.mondonet.org/MondoNetNCApaper_draft.pdf
Weaving a New ‘Net: A Mesh-Based Solution
for Democratizing Networked Communications
by Aram Sinnreich, Nathan Graham, & Aaron Trammell / Rutgers University

Abstract
Recent developments, from the mass release of sensitive diplomatic cables by Wikileaks to the social media–fueled revolutions and protests currently gripping the Middle East and North Africa, have underscored the increasingly vital role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in geopolitical affairs. Further, a wealth of recent research demonstrates the growing importance of digital networks in fostering cultural innovation and a vibrant public sphere, and the increasing centrality of these technologies to the daily lives of billions of individuals across the globe. Given the centrality of ICTs to these emerging changes in our social, cultural, and political landscapes, and the oft-invoked observation that “code is law,” it is essential that we develop and maintain a communications infrastructure that will enable individuals and communities (especially those in danger of political repression) to participate and contribute fully and actively to the public sphere, and to communicate confidently in private. Unfortunately, today’s infrastructure is not fully adequate to achieve this end. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently observed, “the internet continues to be constricted in myriad ways worldwide.” While this is certainly the case in repressive political regimes from China to Iran, we face significant obstacles to “internet freedom” in America, as well. Although the internet is highly decentralized in its communication and social patterns, its technical and regulatory foundations are extremely hierarchical, due to centralized control by organizations like ICANN and oligopolistic ownership of network access. As a result of this centralization, digital communications are vulnerable to a degree of surveillance and censorship that would be unthinkable in traditional social arenas, threatening free speech and cyberliberties. Many laws and regulations exploit, rather than ameliorate this threat. Seemingly disparate factors like tiered access, intellectual property laws and national security measures, taken in combination, threaten to produce a communications environment in which cultural innovation is stifled, normative behaviors are criminalized, and political dissidence is dangerous or impossible. We believe that a new architecture is required in order to protect the continuance of civil liberties in networked society. In this article, we propose 10 “social specifications” describing the requirements of such an architecture, and outline a project called MondoNet designed to meet these specifications using ad hoc, wireless mesh networking technologies. We also address the legal and technical challenges facing the MondoNet project, and anticipate future developments in this field.

Weaving a New ‘Net: A Mesh-Based Solution
for Democratizing Networked Communications

Introduction
On February 15, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech entitled “Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World,” in which she reaffirmed America’s commitment to “internet freedom” as an increasingly vital element of our foreign policy (Clinton, 2011). In her words, internet freedom is “about ensuring that the internet remains a space where activities of all kinds can take place, from grand, ground-breaking, historic campaigns to the small, ordinary acts that people engage in every day.” Or, to put it simply, the internet is essential to the exercise of free speech and civil liberties in networked society. Recent political developments around the world appear to support this argument. Although the internet has been a platform for political speech and social action virtually since its inception (Rheingold, 1993), digital communications platforms have become an increasingly central component of resistance movements and other organized social action over the past five years, and consequently an increasingly popular target for repression, censorship, and surveillance. As Secretary Clinton herself observed, social and mobile media were important tools for both organizing and publicizing the massive antiregime protests in Iran in 2009 and Egypt in 2011, leading to government-imposed internet shutdowns in both cases, and contributing to the eventual ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The complete list of relevant examples is far longer; in countries ranging from China to Tunisia to Myanmar, political resistance and repression have moved from streets and cafes to mobile phones and laptops, and governments have devoted an ever greater number of resources to controlling and policing the flow of digital communications within and without their borders. In addition to its role in political struggle and change, the internet has also become central to the social, economic, and creative lives of billions of people around the world. A wealth of recent research (e.g., Deuze, 2006; Benkler, 2006; Coté & Pybus, 2007; Sinnreich, 2010; Baym, 2010) illustrates the growing importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in fostering cultural innovation, emerging markets, and a vibrant public sphere. Unfortunately, the challenges posed to online political speech and cultural innovation don’t end at America’s borders. Despite Secretary Clinton’s assertion that “on the spectrum of internet freedom, we place ourselves on the side of openness,” American citizens face numerous threats to free speech and civil liberties online, from both governmental and commercial institutions.

Infrastructure, Access, and Speech
We cannot understand the operation of the internet without first understanding the commercial interests of the private companies that provide its infrastructure, and control access to that infrastructure (deNardis, 2010). There is almost a complete lack of competition between these companies; at present, 97 percent of American consumers are forced to chose between at most two broadband providers (Turner, 2009). As Lawrence E. Strickling (2010), administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), recently argued, “Broadband service providers have an incentive to use their control . . . to advantage their value-added services or to disadvantage competitive alternatives. In the absence of robust broadband competition, those providers may be able profitably to act on those incentives to the detriment of consumers and competition.” Consumers face a similar lack of choice in the wireless data market, an arena in which federal regulators possess even less power to exercise oversight.1 This lack of competition and effective regulation gives broadband and wireless providers a great deal of unchecked market power, which they have used, and have an incentive to continue using, in ways that undermine the ability of their customers to freely exchange information. In practice, we have already seen several instances of service providers exploiting this power to block communications for ideological, rather than purely profit-driven, motives. AT&T, for instance, has been criticized for censoring speech critical of President Bush during a live webcast (Marra, 2007). Similarly, Verizon Wireless has blocked text messages from NARAL, a pro-choice political group (Liptak, 2007). The consolidation of the Internet access business raises political concerns beyond these anticompetitive implications. It also contributes to an environment in which free speech is constrained by the federal government itself. One notable example is the NSA electronic surveillance program, a massive federal initiative to eavesdrop on the private communications of American citizens in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This program, which violated federal laws (ACLU, 2008), was only possible because the NSA was able to monitor the majority of communications by compelling a relatively small number of oligopolists to participate, presumably using federal regulatory power as leverage.

1 At the time of writing, AT&T has just announced its plans to acquire T-Mobile, potentially bringing the number of major American wireless data service providers from 4 to 3.

Of course, most governmental threats to free speech online come from laws, treaties, and policies that have been introduced and/or ratified by Congress. Although this is not the place for an exhaustive survey, a short list of troubling examples includes the revised Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Stored Communications Act (SCA), the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Combating Online Trade Agreements and Copyrights Act (COICA), and the as-yet-unnamed “backdoor bill,” a law requested by the White House that would give the Department of Justice unilateral power to compel ISPs to censor entire domains from the American public. Understood collectively, these examples indicate that the emerging legislative consensus accords “e-speech” less protection than traditional channels and forums (Sinnreich & Zager, 2008). In addition to these concerns, Zittrain (2009) and Moglen (2010) have pointed to the ways in which the emerging “cloud” architecture also undermines democratic and participatory communications. The consolidation of capital and information within a set of centralized corporate servers leads to the complete disempowerment of the user, to a point where ownership of all networked data skews away from local computers toward a set of centralized, corporate-owned servers. In Moglen’s words, the “dis-empowered client [is] at the edge and the server in the middle. [Information was stored] far from the human beings who controlled, or thought they controlled, the operation of the computers that increasingly dominated their lives. This was a recipe for disaster.”

Resistance and Reinvention
The constraints on free speech and civil liberties we have mentioned have met with various forms of resistance over the years. From the beginning, as Turner (2006) relates, the internet’s military and hegemonic origins have been recast as an opportunity for democratic, or even utopian, sociopolitical action. From John Perry Barlow’s seminal 1996 manifesto, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” to today’s position papers and legal interventions by groups like Free Press, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Electronic Frontier Foundation (a group Barlow cofounded), there has been a consistent effort to define and preserve online free speech and civil liberties, and to develop an ethical and legal framework surrounding these issues. Similarly, we may understand the emergence of networked participatory culture (Banks & Humphreys, 2008), convergence culture (Jenkins, 2006), and configurable culture (Sinnreich, 2010), and the mass adoption of alternative communication protocols like peer-to-peer file sharing, as a largely nonideological form of resistance against the monopolization and privatization of communication. Although an individual mash-up or remix may not be positioned as a challenge to copyright law (or even produced with effective understanding of such laws), for instance, the collective interest in producing and sharing these emerging cultural forms by the billions indicates an emerging set of norms at odds with the increasingly draconian conditions under which cultural expression may legally occur. However, despite the prevalence and effectiveness of these forms of resistance, which are positioned in opposition to cultural regulation through commercial and legal means, the threats to civil liberties and free speech we have identified can ultimately be attributed to a network architecture that lends itself to exploitative and hegemonic ends. As Lessig (1999) has written so concisely, “code is law.” And, despite our ambitions of “internet freedom,” and the wealth of democratized cultural forms and breadth of political opinions currently flowering online, we believe these freedoms will continue to be undermined by a network architecture that fundamentally privileges centralized control over collective deliberation. If power corrupts, as Lord Acton’s oft-quoted phrase suggests, then absolute power over global communications will inevitably corrupt the public sphere and undermine the democratic process. Thus, we propose that the best way to vouchsafe civil liberties in the networked age is through an architectural intervention. The internet’s infrastructure must be fundamentally reimagined if it is to serve as an effective platform for democracy. Though the benefits of hierarchical DNS regimes and long-distance terrestrial backbone infrastructure are clear from an engineering standpoint, they also may be at odds with the same political values they were ostensibly built to serve (Mueller, 2002). Not only does the current architecture place the United States in an exceptional and politically unsustainable role as global regulator, it also allows for the interests of consolidated capital to be furthered above all else. In the interest of promoting civil liberties in a democratic society, our network architecture must encourage free, unregulated speech (Balkin, 2004, p. 49). To guide ourselves and others in understanding what a reimagined networked architecture would require if free speech and civil liberties are to be prioritized above all other considerations, we have developed a set of 10 “social specifications.” Our hope is that these may be understood as fundamental principles informing the development and deployment of next-generation networking technologies. Below, we will describe our own solution to these challenges, in the form of an ad hoc, wireless mesh network called MondoNet.

10 Social Specifications for a Democratized Network

1. Decentralized
The network should not be operated, maintained, or in any way reliant upon a single or minimally differentiated set of entities or technologies. No individual, entity, or group should be central to the network to the extent that its absence would measurably impact the network’s functionality or scope. Network participation should not require access to fixed, physical infrastructure of any sort.

2. Universally Accessible
The requisite technology and expertise required to participate in the network should be available at minimal cost and effort to every human being on the planet. Furthermore, all users should be able to extend the network’s content and functionality to suit their own needs, or those of others. No aspect of the network’s functioning should be reliant upon proprietary technologies, information, or capital.

3. Censor-Proof
The network should be resistant to both regulatory and technical attempts to limit the nature of the information shared, restrict usage by given individuals or communities, or render the network, or any portion of it, inoperable or inaccessible.

4. Surveillance-Proof
The network should enable users to choose exactly what information they share with whom, and to participate anonymously if they so desire. Users should only have access to information if they are the designated recipients, or if it has been published openly.

5. Secure
The network should be organized in a way that minimizes the risk of malicious attacks or engineering failure. Information exchanged on the network should meet or exceed the delivery rate and reliability of information exchanged via the internet.

6. Scalable
The network should be organized with the expectation that its scale could reach or even exceed that of today’s internet. Special care should be taken to address to the challenge of maintaining efficiency without the presence of a centralized backbone.

7. Permanent
The network’s density and redundancy should be great enough that it will operate persistently on a broad scale, and be available in full to any user within range of another user.

8. Fast (Enough)
The network should always achieve whatever speed is required for a “bottom-line” level of social and cultural participation. At present, we assert that the network’s data transfer rate should, at a minimum, be enough for voice-over-IP (VoIP) communications, and low-bitrate streaming video.

9. Independent
While the network will have the capacity to exchange information with internet users and nodes, it should also be able to operate independently. A large-scale failure or closure of internet infrastructure and content should have minimal effect on the network’s operations.

10. Evolvable
The network should be built with future development in mind. The platform should be flexible enough to support technologies, protocols, and modes of usage that have not yet been developed.

Our Solution: MondoNet
There are undoubtedly several potential technological routes to address the social specifications outlined above, and as network technology continues to evolve, we are certain that additional solutions will arise. Given today’s technological and social landscape, we believe the most promising approach is the development of a mobile, ad hoc wireless mesh network (sometimes abbreviated MANET; Rheingold, 2002). In a MANET, users connect directly to one another via WiFi or a similar wireless networking protocol, and each device becomes client, server, and router at once, sharing bandwidth and information with other devices, and enabling users to relay third-party information on behalf of their indirectly connected peers. Such a network requires no centralized infrastructure or access service provider; to join the mesh, one simply logs on within range of another peer, and to exit the network, one simply logs off. Ideally, the number and density of peers should be great enough that the network persists despite the continuing entrance and exit of individual nodes.

MANET technology is not a silver bullet to address the challenges and specifications we outlined above, and none of the existing initiatives yet fit the bill (a subject we will address in greater depth below). In order to meet our social specifications, the network, which we call MondoNet, would need to be conscientiously designed and adapted with these challenges in mind. Given the limitations of today’s networking technologies, no MANET can be universally accessible or completely decentralized at launch. Because of the geographical proximity required for participation, MondoNet would need to develop first within local communities. Over time, those communities would themselves become regionally interconnected, and, ultimately, global (or at least intracontinental) networks could be established. (Other network-based technologies such as the telephone have grown in similar fashion [Wu, 2010]) The first phase of MondoNet’s rollout would require access to internet points-of-presence to bring users in contact with one another, and to provide them with access to content and services that are currently located exclusively on internet servers. This reliance on the internet as a prosthetic network undermines MondoNet’s independence and security by bringing network data back into the range of ISP and wireless carrier scrutiny and control. However, as MondoNet grows in size and coverage, we envision a greater number of content and service providers hosting their data on MondoNet peers, rendering traditional internet access increasingly unnecessary. Over the long term, MondoNet should operate as a completely detached network, independent of the internet. Security, censorship, and surveillance are additional challenges. In a normal ad hoc network, malicious peers can obtain sensitive information simply by joining the network and capturing the data they route on behalf of third parties. We envision MondoNet as a natively encrypted platform, in which security, rather than openness, is the default status of all data. By leveraging existing, open-source encryption protocols, all intrapersonal communications would be accessible only by intended participants. For communications and network publications intended to be globally accessible, we can encrypt information with “everybody” as a recipient and integrate the public key for decoding this data into the platform, so that the user experience will be identical to today’s experience of viewing unencrypted data via the internet. Another censorship threat comes in the form of locatability; in repressive regimes, the operation of a MondoNet peer may be seen as a punishable offense. Once the signal is traced to a given device, it may be deactivated, and the operator may be liable. Although there is an inherent risk in participating in any prohibited network, we believe there is greater safety in numbers. We hope to ameliorate the risk of participation, and boost the stability and efficiency of MondoNet, by introducing “repeater” peers into the network, which would function independently of human operators. Consisting of little more than a small antenna, a power supply, and a tiny flash memory chip, repeater peers could be produced cheaply in large quantity and distributed throughout MondoNet’s geographical coverage areas, hidden within public and private spaces (e.g., attached to street signs and automobiles with magnets, buried in trash cans, stashed behind inventory on store shelves). This would drastically decrease the ability of censors to identify human operators, and increase the density, speed, and permanence of network coverage. An additional challenge we must address is access. All formats, standards, and documentation associated with MondoNet must be freely licensed or in the public domain, to ensure that (1) the technology cannot be monopolized or rendered inoperable by any given party; (2) development of the platform is accessible to all users, and will remain so for perpetuity; and (3) the cost to gain access to MondoNet software and services is as close to zero as possible.

While open-source hardware will also help lower cost of access, we see an even greater opportunity in repurposing consumers’ existing mobile devices for inclusion in MondoNet. Throughout the developed world, it is common for consumers to upgrade their mobile phones and entertainment devices every 18–24 months, discarding previous-generation models or relegating them to a back closet. By downloading an easy-to-install firmware upgrade to devices such as smartphones, portable media players, and tablets, users should be able to access MondoNet with hardware they already own but have no current use for. The immediate incentive will be access to voice and video communications, peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P), and other valuable network services without the cost or liability associated with accessing the same services over the internet. What this means for MondoNet as a whole is potential installation on hundreds of millions of devices already in the hands or homes of users. There are further challenges to the successful deployment of MondoNet. The internet benefits immensely from a centralized governance and organizational structure, in terms of network efficiency, security, and operations. IP number assignment, DNS, and protocol compatibility are just a few of the issues that will be difficult to implement without a central authority. However, we do not view these challenges as insurmountable, and other interested parties are already working to address them. For instance, Pirate Bay developer Peter Sunde recently announced a P2P DNS initiative, which would theoretically address some of these challenges. Below, we will explore this and other platforms, technologies and initiatives that we believe MondoNet can emulate, partner with, adopt, or otherwise learn from.

Technical Considerations
A MANET that would conform to the social specifications outlined earlier faces numerous well-documented engineering challenges, but we are optimistic about its potential for success. In MondoNet, we are proposing a peer-based architecture for data transmission that breaks from the server/client model that has come to dominate popular conceptualizations of the internet (Moglen, 2010; Schollmeier, 2002). With current advances in battery life, mobile routing protocols, WiFi (802.11), WiMAX (802.16), encryption techniques, and human-centered design, MANETs could emerge as a viable alternative to current hierarchical systems. In addition, several high-profile projects, such as Freedom Box, Open Mesh, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the Serval Project, and a Better Approach to Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (B.A.T.M.A.N.), have proposals that could fortify the initiatives set forth by MondoNet by providing specialized routing protocols, persistent stationary nodes, and security measures, in addition to piquing user awareness of and interest in mesh networking. For security, overlay encryption built upon existing TCP/IP architecture is one popular and viable solution, although encryption and key verification introduce a heavy traffic load and bandwidth restraints to nodes that often have limited battery and computational power (Mamatha & Sharma, 2010, p. 276). Recent testing has demonstrated the success of a distributed security scheme, which utilizes multiple strategies at the network and link layers to efficiently reduce network security vulnerabilities (Gada et al., 2004; Khokhar, Ngadi & Mandala, 2008; Dhanalakshmi & Rajaram, 2008). A powerful layer-two encryption with a distributed scheme would put all users on the same broadcast domain while reducing traffic load. However, in order for anonymous users to connect and push data across heterogeneous networks, layer-two encryption may not be the best option. Instead, a solution such as tcpcrypt, which uses opportunistic encryption by adding TCP header options to encrypt all traffic, would provide greater security, backwards compatibility with legacy TCP stacks, and minimized strain from negotiations on the server (36 times more connections than SSL). Using this approach to encryption provides a fallback to standard encryption if the endpoint does not support the method, and tcpcrypt is capable of staggered deployment. Another important benefit is that tcpcrypt has no requirements for preshared keys (psk) or certificates. Tcpcrypt makes “end-to-end encryption of TCP traffic the default, not the exception” (Bittau, 2010). We face an additional major security challenge, as well: the current operating frequencies are known, limited, and therefore easily jammed. Although MANETs are capable of creating diverse communication paths across a network, allowing for versatile rerouting around localized interference and overcoming a common problem with radio-based technologies, broad-interference attempts could still cripple the network. MondoNet must address potential interference from the environment, and jamming attempts from totalitarian governments and other malicious actors because, as Frankel et al. (2007) establish, the current standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE; 802.11) offers no defense against jamming or flooding (p. 39).

Fortunately, wireless bandwidth is becoming more difficult to disrupt. In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously agreed to open a large portion of the unused wireless spectrum (frequencies previously reserved for analog television) for unlicensed use to white-spaces devices, or WSDs (Wu, Wang, Liu & Clancy, 2008, p. 9). In 2010, the FCC voted to distribute unlicensed spectrum for the first time in 25 years, setting two channels aside for wireless microphone use previously used by analog television (Kim, 2010). This newly available spectrum, with its longer wavelength and better penetration, will allow wireless broadband access as part of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has selected nine administrators to manage and maintain the white spaces database (FCC, 2011). WSDs are capable of detecting the local frequencies in use such as television stations and avoiding interference, which are outlined in proposals from IEEE 802.11, 802.22, and the White Spaces Coalition (IEEE, 2009; Stevenson, 2009; Bangeman, 2007). An opportunistic multihop ad hoc network would create intermediate nodes through distributed storage, which would alleviate some of the problems associated with a network where “user disconnection is a feature rather than an exception” (Conti, 2007). These intermediate nodes would store data when no nodes are prepared to receive it and then forward the data to other peers within transmission range. Conti notes that an opportunistic ad hoc multihop network is “well-suited for a world of pervasive devices equipped with various wireless networking technologies” such as WiFi, WiMAX, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and plug-in servers that are “frequently out of range from a global network but are in the range of other networked devices” (p. viii). It is now more realistic than ever to lay the groundwork for MondoNet. By employing some of the improvements outlined above, the B.A.T.M.A.N. project claims to have achieved a wireless mesh consisting of 4000. Other MANET routing protocol efforts include Babel, a distance vector routing protocol based on AODV, which utilizes a unique variation of the ETX link cost estimate instead of the hop metric used for most multihop ad hoc deliveries; WING, which provides added support for radio interfaces, uses Weighted Transmission Time (WCETT) routing metric, and allows automatic channel assignment; and Roofnet’s SrcRR, which also takes advantage of the ETX metric. Babel, WING, and Roofnet are useful because all are capable of eliminating transient routing loops commonly associated with MANETs, which helps reduce unnecessary route duplication.

Several individuals and organizations have proposed hardware to enable an effective MANET. These proposals include Freedom Boxes, which are “cheap, small, low-powered plug servers” (Dwyer, 2011) that run on Linux-based software; LANdroids, pocket-sized wireless network nodes that were created to travel autonomously with troops and disaster relief teams (Menke, 2010); OLPC XO, which is a Linux-based subcomputer built around an 802.11s WiFi mesh networking protocol; Roofnet, which, in addition to providing open source routing protocols, has set up 70 nodes in Portland, OR; and Solar Mesh, a solar-powered wireless mesh network developed by McMaster University, providing hotspot coverage and WiFi endstations. In addition to hardware and routing solutions, several other relevant projects and software frameworks are under development, such as GNUnet, a software framework allowing friend-to-friend (F2F) sharing; Daihinia, which transforms a common ad hoc WiFi network into an efficient multihop solution for communities; and SMesh, a hierarchical mesh network built upon Spines in which peers rely on the infrastructure to forward packets instead of relying on other peers. Finally, Open Mesh Project and Open Source Mesh are both recently launched projects that aim to establish effective mesh networks. Unlike MondoNet, these initiatives do not require network mobility, and have not presented a clearly delineated set of social specifications informing their technological development. However, we see these projects as valuable potential partners sharing a common set of goals and interests with MondoNet.

Pending Questions
An important set of remaining questions concerns the legal and regulatory environment for MondoNet. First, to ensure that the platform remains accessible to all potential users and available to current and future developers, we must undertake efforts to make sure that it is built on firm legal foundations. This means taking precautions not to violate any existing patents, as well as developing and sharing our own intellectual property under appropriate terms. Although we are already committed to an open license, there are dozens of free software licenses listed by the Open Source Initiative (n.d.), each offering a slightly different definition of openness and a slightly different solution for achieving it (Lamothe, 2006; Waugh & Metcalfe, 2008). Currently, our online documentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 license,2 but we have yet to establish which software licensing platform will be most effective in supporting our ambitions for MondoNet. Second, although we envision MondoNet as a tool made expressly for maintaining free communications in the face of institutional and governmental censorship, we will operate under the shelter of law to the greatest extent possible. This entails a number of concerns, the details of which may differ from region to region and from year to year. One example is the question of spectrum licensing; namely, what permission do individual citizens have to broadcast information at given energy levels within given frequency ranges? One of the benefits of using WiFi (specifically, IEEE 802.11) is its broad international recognition as a platform for consumer communications technologies. Of course, there are more powerful frequency ranges that may be available as well (e.g., lower frequency “white spaces” recently unlicensed in the U.S. by the FCC (FCC, 2011; IEEE, 2009; Wu, Wang, Liu, & Clancy, 2008). As we will discuss further below, a related question concerns the extent to which we can integrate these multiple networking standards into a single mesh framework.

2 Details about this license can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Finally, there are questions of legality surrounding the kinds of information that may be shared on MondoNet, and the treaties, laws, and precedents regarding the liability of network operators and technology providers who enable such sharing. Most sovereignties have taken pains to distinguish between permitted and unpermitted speech (e.g., intellectual property infringement, politically inflammatory messages, child pornography), and have developed systems to coerce platform providers to surveil and police their user bases. In the United States, for instance, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it a felony to provide technology that is “designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a [copyrighted] work.” Even more to the point, President Obama in 2010 requested Congress to draft a new law that would require all communications technology providers to create a “back door” enabling wiretapping functionality for law enforcement (Savage, 2010; other nations, such as United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have made similar moves in recent years). Given that the previous administration illegally used its wiretapping powers to surveil American citizens without a court order (Savage & Risen, 2010), we consider such back door functionality to be anathema to the MondoNet project. We therefore anticipate that it is likely that developers, distributors and users of MondoNet will come into conflict with American and international laws, regardless of the content or legal status of their individual communications. There are also several pending questions related to technologies and platforms. Creating a system that conforms to MondoNet’s social specifications poses several hurdles. In order to establish the credibility necessary to encourage users to adopt a new conceptualization of the internet, it is essential that MondoNet adheres to human-centered design principles. Maguire (2001) identified five benefits of an effective, usable system: Increased productivity, reduced errors, reduced training and support, improved acceptance, and enhanced reputation (p. 587). For users under duress during disaster relief efforts, and for populations under oppressive government censorship, system usability, security, and interface simplicity are especially essential. To achieve this end, several key issues still must be addressed, such as determining the optimal routing protocol and encryption method. When designing any MANET, the main goal is to reliably transmit data from one node to another while still delivering a reasonable quality of service given the resource-limited environment. Although Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is the common standard at the transport layer, it has the notable disadvantage of being slower than User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Future investigations will look at the potential benefits of traffic dispersion using multipath routing, which could improve performance and reduce the amount of energy consumed between nodes (Karygiannis, Antonakakis & Apostolopoulos, 2006; Nácher et al., 2007). Since energy consumption is always an important consideration with mobile devices, answering the design questions limiting battery life such as more routing and security power-aware protocols (Toh, 2001; Liang, & Yuansheng, 2004) are paramount but hardware remedies such as the recent three-fold improvement to the lithium-ion battery using solid state technology (Voith, 2010) are also being investigated.

Security is one of the primary obstacles to adoption in a MANET because the system is peer-based. Although opportunistic encryption through tcpcrypt provides many benefits, opportunistic encryption is inherently susceptible to active attacks. However, Bittau et al. (2010) describe an interesting approach using session IDs to prevent active attacks using tcpcrypt in MANETs (p. 7). Detecting malicious nodes in a MANET poses security problems because, unlike wired networks, anonymous, participatory MANETs are currently incapable of monitoring traffic and therefore lack an Intrusion Detection System (IDS; Karygiannis, Antonakakis & Apostolopoulos, 2006). Before MondoNet can be safely, effectively utilized by populations communicating under governments hostile to open information exchange, rigorous security protocols must be in place. Ensuring anonymity is also a complicated process that could be accomplished through tcpcrypt and by performing network address translation (NAT). Another major area of complication arises when attempting to connect networks. On top of every host running a MANET routing protocol (e.g., OSLR, B.A.T.M.A.N.), there will be a device bridging the two networks together. A very simple example would be the relationship between a wireless device and a conventional wireless router. When a wireless device is connected to the router, the devices communicate via 802.11 (WiFi) but then the router converts the transmission to 802.3 (Ethernet) via network cable. Basically, a smartphone cannot directly communicate with a network cable and needs another device such as a wireless router to allow the WiFi equipped smartphone to send and receive packets from the network. This would similarly work on 802.11s, which is the new routing protocol specifically being developed according to IEEE standards defining how interconnected wireless devices communicate. 802.11s also provides a security protocol, Simultaneous Authorization of Equals (SAE), which, although inflexible, provides protection against passive, active, and dictionary attack (Hartkins, 2008). Finally, determining an open source platform to use on repurposed mobile devices will be important to further development. One serious possibility could be a pared-down version of Fedora Linux, similar to the OS used in the OLPC XO-1. In keeping with MondoNet’s commitment to an open source environment, the repurposed devices will utilize IEEE standard compliant open firmware, and a variant of the Xfce GUI. Although there are many additional pending technical questions, previous efforts by MANET and open source developers and researchers have helped illuminate the path toward the comprehensive solution proposed here.

Conclusion
In this article, we have outlined the theoretical rationale, social specifications, and initial technical considerations for a large-scale, ad hoc wireless mesh network, which we call MondoNet. Although we feel this is a promising start, we hope to develop the network from an abstract idea to a concrete reality in the coming years. In the near term, this means addressing the pending questions we have outlined above, and sharing ideas, information and technology with like-minded individuals and initiatives. Over the longer term, we aim to develop and test a prototype, and to distribute the resulting technology to users and communities that may have a need for it. Ideally, this initiative, like many other open source projects, should develop a life of its own, adapting itself to uses we haven’t even considered at present, and evolving with the changing needs and technical capacities of connected individuals around the globe.

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City of Austin’s Wireless Mesh Network System

MORE MESH PROJECTS
http://www.readwriteweb.com/cloud/2011/01/3-projects-to-create-a-government-less-internet.php
by Klint Finley / January 28, 2011

In Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts a wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.

The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we’ve been covering, touches on an issue we’ve raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It’s the sort of technology that’s valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce – Egypt’s Internet blackout can’t be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.

Here are a few projects working to create such networks. Wireless ad-hoc networking has been limited in the past by a bottleneck problem. Researchers may have solved this issue for devices with enough computational power. The U.S. military is alsoinvesting in research in this area.

The OLPC’s XO has meshnetworking capabilities. And some gaming systems, such as the Nintendo DS, have mesh networking built in. But we want to look at projects that are specifically aimed at replacing or augmenting the public Internet.

Openet
Openet is a part of the open_sailing project. Openet’s goal is to create a civilian Internet outside of the control of governments and corporations. It aims to not only create local mesh networks, but to build a global mesh network of mesh networks stitched together by long range  packet radio. See our previous coverage here.

Netsukuku
Netsukuku is a project of the Italian group FreakNet MediaLab. Netsukuku is designed to be a distributed, anonymous mesh network that relies only on normal wireless network cards. FreakNet is even building its own domain name architecture. Unfortunately, there’s no stable release of the code and the web site was last updated in September 2009.

OPENMESH
Not to be confused with the mesh networking hardware vendor of the same name, OPENMESH is a forum created by venture captalist Shervin Pishevar for volunteers interested in building mesh networks for people living in conditions where Internet access may be limited or controlled.

Pishevar came up with the idea during the protests in Iran in 2009. “The last bastion of the dictatorship is the router,” he told us. The events in Egypt inspired him to get started.

It’s a younger project than Openet and Netsukuku, but it may have more mainstream appeal thanks to being backed by Pishevar. It’s not clear how far along Openet is, and Netsukuku’s seems to be completely stalled so a new project isn’t entirely unreasonable. Update: One commenter points out that Netsukuku’s developers have checked in code as recently as two weeks ago, so although the site hasn’t been updated the project isn’t stalled.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/cloud/2011/01/4-more-projects-to-create-a-go.php
by Klint Finley / January 31, 2011

Last week we told you about three projects to create a government-less Internet by taking advantage of wireless mesh networking. Wireless mesh networks are networks that don’t require a centralized authority to create networks. These can provide an alternative way to communicate and share information during a crisis such as a natural disaster or civic unrest.

Many of you followed-up by telling us about several other interesting projects, such as P2P DNS to Tonkia. Most importantly, there are at least four other projects that should have been on our original list.

Daihinia
Daihinia is a commercial project that provides software that essentially turns Windows PCs into wireless repeaters. The company’s software makes it possible to use a desktop or laptop with a normal wireless card to “hop” to a wireless access point while out of range of that access point. There’s no Macintosh version, but it’s being discussed.

Digitata
Digitata is a sub-project of open_sailing‘s Openet, which we mentioned in the previous installment. Digitata is focused on bringing wireless networks to rural areas of Africa. The group is creating open source hardware and software, including its own own IP layer for mesh networking called IPvPosition (IPvP).

Freifunk
Freifunk (German for “free radio”) is an organization dedicated to providing information and resources for mesh networking projects. Its website has a list of local mesh networks all over the world, from Afghanistan to Nepal to Seattle.

One of its main resources is the Freifunk firmware, a free router firmware optimized for wireless mesh networking. Users can replace the standard firmware on their routers with Frefunk’s firmware, enabling them to build mesh networks with cheap off the shelf hardware.

Freifunk also develops a protocol  Better Approach To Mobile Adhoc Networking, or B.A.T.M.A.N., an alternative to the older  Optimized Link State Routing Protocol (OLSR).

wlan ljubljana and nodewatcher
wlan ljubljana is a wireless mesh network in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In addition to providing its users with Internet access, it appears to also feature a local network.

wlan ljubljana is working with volunteers in other cities in Slovenia to create more local networks, and has created its own firmware package for routers called nodewatcher. Like Freifunk, nodewatcher is based on the embeddable Linux distribution OpenWrt. nodewatcher is designed to be easy to use for a non-technical user.

More Resources
Here are a few more resources:

http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/

Playcentre: In Camden, north London, demonstrators invaded a NatWest and set up a creche where children played, practiced musical instruments while parents caught up
Playcentre: In Camden, north London, demonstrators invaded a NatWest and set up a creche where children played, practiced musical instruments while parents caught up.

BANK BRANCH as COMMUNITY CENTER
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1360925/Activists-turn-40-British-bank-branches-creches-classrooms-shelters-job-centres-protest-bonuses-cuts.html
Reclaiming the banks: Activists turn British banks into creches, classrooms and launderettes in protest over public service cuts  /  26th February 2011

Activists stormed more than 40 banks across Britain in protest over executive bonuses and public service cuts –  and turned them into a variety of ad hoc walk-in centres. UK Uncut said demonstrators set up creches, laundries, school classrooms, libraries, homeless shelters, drama clubs, walk-in clinics, youth centres, job centres and leisure centres at branches of RBS, NatWest and Lloyds. At 10am in Camden, north London, demonstrators invaded a NatWest and set up a creche where children played, practiced musical instruments while parents caught up. Meanwhile in nearby Islington 50 activists set up a laundry in an RBS branch in reaction to alleged council moves to cut services to the elderly, including a much-needed laundry service. They set up washing lines, clothes horses, buckets for handwashing and a team of window cleaners on the outside. The protest was attended by over 15 pensioners and local Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. Banks were transformed into ‘hospitals’ in Liverpool and Redhill, a classroom in Cardiff, a leisure centre in Eastleigh, a job centre in Birmingham. Twenty people took tents and sleeping bags into NatWest in Brixton to create a homeless shelter.

Meanwhile in Islington 50 activists set up a laundry in an RBS branch in reaction to alleged council moves to cut services to the elderly, including a much-needed laundry serviceMeanwhile in Islington 50 activists set up a laundry in an RBS branch in reaction to alleged council moves to cut services to the elderly, including a much-needed laundry service

They set up washing lines, clothes horses, buckets for handwashing and a team of window cleaners on the outsideThey set up washing lines, clothes horses, buckets for handwashing and a team of window cleaners on the outside 

Aisha Atkins, 32, said: ‘There are alternatives to the cuts, for example, making the banks pay for a crisis they created or by stopping tax-dodging by big business and the super rich. ‘But the Government is making a political choice to reduce the deficit by making ordinary people pay with job losses and savaged services. We are transforming the banks into schools, leisure centres, laundry services and homeless shelters to show that it’s our society that’s too big to fail, not a broken banking system.’ An RBS spokeswoman said: ‘We fully respect the right to peaceful protest. Minimising disruption to our customers is our priority.’

PRO-TAX-PAYING
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/27/uk-uncut-stage-protests-banks
by Jonathan Paige / 27 February 2011

UK Uncut, the anti-cuts campaign group, staged protests at more than 40 bank branches throughout Britain on a day when the group’s American counterpart, US Uncut, staged at least 50 protests. The fast growing British group, still under six months old, staged the Big Society Bail In protests to show the range of services it says have had to be cut in order to support the financial sector. Last week the group focused on Barclays, which admitted it paid just £113m tax in the UK in 2009 on reported profits of £11.6bn. This week the protests were aimed at 84% state-owned RBS, which has revealed that more than 100 of their bankers were paid more than £1m last year, while total bonuses reached close to £1bn on the bailed-out bank’s reported losses of £1.1bn for 2010. Other banks’ branches, including NatWest and Lloyds, in which the Treasury holds 41% of shares, were also targeted. In Islington, protesters turned up at a branch of RBS with buckets of soapy water, washing lines and clothes pegs in to highlight claimed council cuts to services for the elderly. Supporters included the Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn and pensioners from the borough. Emma, speaking for the demonstrators, said: “The banks caused the financial crisis yet it’s ordinary people across the country having to pay for it, through cuts to vital public services. By propping up banks like RBS with billions of pounds of bailout money the government has forced cuts to services like laundry help for the elderly, which is why we’re here today. “The cuts are a political choice, not a necessity.”

In Brixton, 20 people brought tents and sleeping bags into NatWest to create a homeless shelter, while a branch of Lloyds in Oxford Street saw a teach-in featuring lecturers from other tax campaign groups including the Robin Hood Campaign and Tax Justice. A bank branch in Birmingham temporarily became a “job centre” while protesters in Nottingham set up a “big society reading room”. Many smaller towns also staged actions. Protesters in Redhill, Surrey set up a “hospital” in a branch of Natwest, while a bank branch in Eastleigh, Hampshire was turned into a “leisure centre” and one in Lewes became a drama club. Daniel Garvin, a spokesman for UK Uncut, said: “The day went extremely well. There 40 actions across the UK, which have hammered home the link between the crisis caused by the banks and the cuts to our essential services. The movement has gone international with the US staging 50 protests. It’s become a global issue, proving people can work across borders to tackle issues like corporate tax avoidance and cuts to services.”

US Uncut, despite being formed three weeks ago, has already come to the attention of the right-wing Fox News host Glenn Beck, who suggested the protests are part of a global conspiracy that includes anti-union law protests in Wisconsin and the revolts in the Middle East. In Washington DC, over 100 protesters temporarily closed down a branch of the Bank of America, which received and repaid $45 billion in the 2009 US federal bailout. US Uncut said it has exploited the tax code to pay no federal income taxes in 2009, while paying its top executives millions of dollars. “We were inspired by UK Uncut to stage a teach-in,” said Rizvi Qureshi, of US Uncut DC. “It went on for about half an hour, before people left of their own accord and carried on protesting outside. There was a very small police presence and the protest ended without any trouble. “This is just the beginning of a larger national campaign about tax avoidance in response to federal budget cuts. We hope to do something equally creative in the future.”

Protests have taken place in Boston, New York and the Midwest. Many actions are still underway on the west coast of the US, from Seattle in the north to San Diego in the south. A protest is also taking place in Nova Scotia, Canada, with more planned across the country. RBS said: “We fully respect the right to peaceful protest. Minimizing disruption to our customers is our priority.” The group’s chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, said the number of millionaires was lower than a year ago and that a quarter of the group’s 18,700 investment bankers would not receive a bonus from the £950m payout pool agreed with UK Financial Investments.

BANK of AMERICA PAYS NO U.S. TAXES
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/27/us-uncut-bank-of-america-liberal-tea-party_n_828782.html

Demonstrators posing as a liberal Tea Party disrupted service at banks across the country on Saturday, in an effort to spotlight the gimmicks multi-billion dollar corporations use to avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Self-organized through anti-austerity movementU.S. Uncut, regional captains helped organize demonstrators at more than 40 different branchesof Bank of America. The newly-minted group was inspired by an article published recently in The Nation by Johann Hari: “How to Build a Progressive Tea Party.” Hari writes:

Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind … Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism. It shows that there is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich. It shifts the national conversation … This may sound like a fantasy–but it has all happened. The name of this parallel universe is Britain. As recently as this past fall, people here were asking the same questions liberal Americans have been glumly contemplating: Why is everyone being so passive? Why are we letting ourselves be ripped off? Why are people staying in their homes watching their flat-screens while our politicians strip away services so they can fatten the superrich even more?

Hari evokes the spirit of UK Uncut — a movement made up of British citizens, who, in the face of brutal budget cuts, have sought to shame corporate tax dodgers through public demonstrations — and suggests Americans follow suit. U.S. Uncut is doing just that; though many members of the group have disowned the title of Tea Party, telling HuffPost that while they were inspired by the article in The Nation, they do not want to be identified as an opposition group.

Saturday marked the group’s first coordinated event. “Billionaires got bonuses, bailouts and tax cuts, too — the least they can do is pay their fair share of taxes,” said Ryan Clay, a 28-year-old media analyst who helped organize the U.S. Uncut demonstration in Washington, DC. “I got inspired, other people got inspired, we met online, and we’re working through social media to really bring these abhorrent facts to the public.” A rally in San Francisco drew scores of protesters to a branch of Bank of America at Union Square; dressed in ordinary street clothes, they filed into the bank one by one, getting in line to speak with the tellers. Each of them carried a fake check from Bank of America made out to “The United States c/o Tax Paying Citizens,” for $1.5 billion. The sum would cover all the bank’s unpaid taxes on its 2009 earned income of $4.4 billion, demonstrators said.

Only a few people had presented their fake checks to the tellers before the bank temporarily closed for business; protesters were peacefully escorted out of the building by the police. Once on the street, however, they stayed put and kept handing out fake checks, which had facts about corporate tax avoidance written in fine print on the back, as fliers. “Two-thirds of all U.S. corporations do not pay federal income tax,” the fliers said. “BofA is the largest bank and the 5th largest corporation in America.”

“People seemed more eager to accept these fliers and actually read the information they contained than what one would usually expect from handouts with political messages,” said Leslie Dreyer, 32, a resident of Oakland, Calif., who came up with the idea of using checks as props. “When asked ‘would you like a check for 1.5 billion to cash at any BoA?’, they were amused and intrigued enough to ‘read the fine print.'” A Bank of America spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment. Many of the largest corporations in the country have mastered the art of evading taxes, booking expenses in the U.S. and profits in low-tax countries. A list compiled by Forbes shows that Bank of America was far from being the only multi-billion dollar corporation to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars in earnings in 2009; it is also not the only bank to spark angry demonstrations this week.

On Wednesday morning, New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams marched into a Park Avenue Chase bank to denounce the bank’s failure to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. HuffPost’s Laura Basset reports:

“After denouncing the bank to a cheering crowd and calling its executives “bloodsuckers” for accepting bailout money and refusing to help the suffering homeowners they “preyed on,” Williams was stopped by security guards at the door and told the branch was closed. The mob then chanted “open the door” until Williams was let in, at which point he closed his account.Williams told HuffPost that when campaigning in New York City, he met at least two people on every block with mortgage troubles. He said he doesn’t want the bank to use his money to “further deteriorate the community” he represents, especially in light of chief executive Jamie Dimon’s recent $17 million bonus.”

“It’s incredible what these banks are making people go through,” he said. “It’s disgusting. They’re like bloodsuckers, just sucking the lifeblood out of communities and refusing to help out. I understand that people need to get paid to get the best and brightest and these bonuses help with that, but you can’t do that and then not assist the community and then get a taxpayer bailout to the tune of billions of dollars. That’s just greed at its worst.”

Several demonstrators crashed Bank or America’s Investor Conference Tuesday to make the point that when corporations don’t pay taxes, governments are forced to lay off public workers. A blog posting by the anti-austerity group U.S. Uncut called for protesters to gather Tuesday morning at what they called Bank of America’s “Tax Dodger Conference.” “Call your broker- if you have any shares in BofA, you’re free to come inside to the conference and tell everyone you see about BofA’s tax dodging,” the statement said. After the conference had gotten underway, demonstrators unfurled a banner reading “Tax Dodger.” “When corporations like Bank of America don’t pay their fair share of taxes, we have to ‘cut’ teachers, firefighters, and public servants,” one protester shouted. “Do you pay your taxes? So do we. Why don’t corporations pay their fair share, just like everyone else? Bank of America is Bad for America,” he added. “Bank of America pockets billions in profits and bailouts, but $0 in American taxes – that’s immoral and un-American.”

Last month, the same group organized demonstrations at 40 different Bank of America branches.
U.S. Uncut credited an article in The Nation by John Hari called “How to Build a Progressive Tea Party” with calling the group to action. “Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind,” he wrote. “Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism.” The group takes their name from the British groupU.K. Uncut, which seeks to use public protests to shame corporations into paying taxes. A list compiled by Forbes showed that Bank of America paid no taxes on $4.4 billion in income in 2009.

UK UNCUT
http://www.thenation.com/article/158282/how-build-progressive-tea-party
How to Build a Progressive Tea Party
by Johann Hari | February 3, 2011

Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind. Enraged citizens gather in every city, week after week—to demand the government finally regulate the behavior of corporations and the superrich, and force them to start paying taxes. The protesters shut down the shops and offices of the companies that have most aggressively ripped off the country. The swelling movement is made up of everyone from teenagers to pensioners. They surround branches of the banks that caused this crash and force them to close, with banners saying, You Caused This Crisis. Now YOU Pay. As people see their fellow citizens acting in self-defense, these tax-the-rich protests spread to even the most conservative parts of the country. It becomes the most-discussed subject on Twitter. Even right-wing media outlets, sensing a startling effect on the public mood, begin to praise the uprising, and dig up damning facts on the tax dodgers.

Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism. It shows that there is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich. It shifts the national conversation. Instead of letting the government cut our services and increase our taxes, the people demand that it cut the endless and lavish aid for the rich and make them pay the massive sums they dodge in taxes. This may sound like a fantasy—but it has all happened. The name of this parallel universe is Britain. As recently as this past fall, people here were asking the same questions liberal Americans have been glumly contemplating: Why is everyone being so passive? Why are we letting ourselves be ripped off? Why are people staying in their homes watching their flat-screens while our politicians strip away services so they can fatten the superrich even more?

And then twelve ordinary citizens—a nurse, a firefighter, a student, a TV researcher and others—met in a pub in London one night and realized they were asking the wrong questions. “We had spent all this energy asking why it wasn’t happening,” says Tom Philips, a 23-year-old nurse who was there that night, “and then we suddenly said, That’s what everybody else is saying too. Why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we just start? If we do it, maybe everybody will stop asking why it isn’t happening and join in. It’s a bit like that Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. We thought, If you build it, they will come.”

The new Conservative-led government in Britain is imposing the most extreme cuts to public spending the country has seen since the 1920s. The fees for going to university are set to triple. Children’s hospitals like Great Ormond Street are facing 20 percent cuts in their budgets. In London alone, more than 200,000 people are being forced out of their homes and out of the city as the government takes away their housing subsidies. Amid all these figures, this group of friends made some startling observations. Here’s one. All the cuts in housing subsidies, driving all those people out of their homes, are part of a package of cuts to the poor, adding up to £7 billion. Yet the magazine Private Eye reported that one company alone—Vodafone, one of Britain’s leading cellphone firms—owed an outstanding bill of £6 billion to the British taxpayers. According to Private Eye, Vodaphone had been refusing to pay for years, claiming that a crucial part of its business ran through a post office box in ultra-low-tax Luxembourg. The last Labour government, for all its many flaws, had insisted it pay up.

But when the Conservatives came to power, David Hartnett, head of the British equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, apologized to rich people for being “too black and white about the law.” Soon after, Vodafone’s bill was reported to be largely canceled, with just over £1 billion paid in the end. Days later George Osborne, the finance minister, was urging people to invest in Vodafone by taking representatives of the company with him on a taxpayer-funded trip to India—a country where that company is also being pursued for unpaid taxes. Vodafone and Hartnett deny this account, claiming it was simply a longstanding “dispute” over fees that ended with the company paying the correct amount. The government has been forced under pressure to order the independent National Audit Office to investigate the affair and to pore over every detail of the corporation’s tax deal. “It was clear to us that if this one company had been made to pay its taxes, almost all these people could have been kept from being forced out of their homes,” says Sam Greene, another of the protesters. “We keep being told there’s no alternative to cutting services. This just showed it was rubbish. So we decided we had to do something.”

They resolved to set up an initial protest that would prick people’s attention. They called themselves UK Uncut and asked several liberal-left journalists, on Twitter (full disclosure: I was one of them), to announce a time and place where people could meet “to take direct action protest against the cuts and show there’s an alternative.” People were urged to gather at 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning outside the Ritz hotel in central London and look for an orange umbrella. More than sixty people arrived, and they went to one of the busiest Vodafone stores—on Oxford Street, the city’s biggest shopping area—and sat down in front of it so nobody could get in. “What really struck me is that when we explained our reasons, ordinary people walking down Oxford Street were incredibly supportive,” says Alex Miller, a 31-year-old nurse. “People would stop and tell us how they were terrified of losing their homes and their jobs—and when they heard that virtually none of it had to happen if only these massive companies paid their taxes, they were furious. Several people stopped what they were doing, sat down and joined us. I guess it’s at that point that I realized this was going to really take off.”

That first protest grabbed a little media attention—and then the next day, in a different city, three other Vodafone stores were shut down in the northern city of Leeds, by unconnected protests. UK Uncut realized this could be replicated across the country. So the group set up a Twitter account and a website, where members announced there would be a national day of protest the following Saturday. They urged anybody who wanted to organize a protest to e-mail them so it could be added to a Google map. Britain’s most prominent tweeters, such as actor Stephen Fry, joined in. That Saturday Vodafone’s stores were shut down across the country by peaceful sit-ins. The crowds sang songs and announced they had come as volunteer tax collectors. Prime Minister David Cameron wants axed government services to be replaced by a “Big Society,” in which volunteers do the jobs instead. So UK Uncut announced it was the Big Society Tax Collection Agency.

The mix of people who turned out was remarkable. There were 16-year-olds from the housing projects who had just had their £30-a-week subsidy for school taken away. There were 78-year-olds facing the closure of senior centers where they can meet their friends and socialize. A chuckling 64-year-old woman named Mary James said, “The scare stories will say this protest is being hijacked by anarchists. If anything, it’s being hijacked by pensioners!” They stopped passers-by to explain why they were protesting by asking, “Sir, do you pay your taxes? So do I. Did you know that Vodafone doesn’t?” The police looked on, bemused. There wasn’t much they could do: in a few places, they surrounded the Vodafone stores before the protesters arrived, stopping anyone from going in or out—in effect doing the protesters’ job for them. One police officer asked me how this tax dodge had been allowed to happen, and when I explained, he said, “So you mean I’m likely to lose my job because these people won’t pay up?”

UK Uncut organized entirely on Twitter, asking what it should do next and taking votes. There was an embarrassment of potential targets: the National Audit Office found in 2007 that a third of the country’s top 700 corporations paid no tax at all. UK Uncut decided to expose and protest one of the most egregious alleged tax dodgers: Sir Philip Green. He is the ninth-richest man in the country, running some of the leading High Street chain stores, including Topshop, Miss Selfridge and British Home Stores. Although he lives and works in Britain, and his companies all operate on British streets, he avoids British taxes by claiming his income is “really” earned by his wife, who lives in the tax haven of Monaco. In 2005 the BBC calculated that he earned £1.2 billion and paid nothing in taxes—dodging more than £300 million in taxes.

Far from objecting, Cameron’s government appointed Green as an official adviser, with special responsibility for “cutting waste.” So UK Uncut drew a direct line from Green’s tax exemption to the cuts in services for ordinary people. For example, Cameron had just announced the closure of the school sports partnership, which makes it possible for millions of schoolchildren to engage in healthy, competitive exercise. The protesters pointed out that if Green was made to pay taxes, the entire program could be saved, with more than £120 million left as small change. So they declared a day of action.

At the London protests against Green, everybody was asked to turn up at the largest branch of Topshop—again on Oxford Street—and mill around like ordinary shoppers. Once a whistle was blown, they were to start chanting, put on sports clothing to dramatize what was being taken away from schoolchildren and sit down by the counters to stop sales. It was the Saturday before Christmas. There was a strange frisson as everyone turned up and looked around. It was impossible to tell who was a shopper and who was a protester: they looked the same. The whistle blew—and they shut down one of the largest retail stores in Europe.

Across Britain, the same thing was happening. Even in Tunbridge Wells—a town synonymous with ultraconservatism—the Vodafone store was blockaded. Again, many people spontaneously joined in. The protests were all over that evening’s TV news. It was the most-read story on the websites of the BBC and the country’s most-read newspaper, the Daily Mail. The prime-time Channel 4 News reported, “A more eloquent and informed group of demonstrators would be hard to come across and one is struck by the wide appeal across ages and incomes, of what they had to say.” The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have shown how social media can be used to conduct the unfocused rage of a scattered population and harden it into a weapon. UK Uncut shows the same tactics can be used in a democracy—and there is the same need. Unemployment in the United States is at the same level as in Egypt before the uprising: 9 percent.

The UK Uncut message was simple: if you want to sell in our country, you pay our taxes. They are the membership fee for a civilized society. Most of the protesters I spoke with had never attended a demonstration before, but were driven to act by the rising unemployment, insecurity and austerity that are being outpaced only by rising rewards for the superrich. Ellie Mae O’Hagan, a 25-year-old office worker in Liverpool, one of the most economically depressed places in the country, said she was “absolutely outraged to discover that I was paying more than Philip Green in taxes.” She added, “I could see what all the cuts were doing. My brother had been made redundant, loads of my friends were unemployed and I could see it all getting worse, while these bankers get even bigger bonuses. And I thought, Right, you’ve got to do something. So I e-mailed UK Uncut to ask if there was a protest happening in Liverpool. They said, Not yet, so you organize one. So I spent forty-eight hours arranging one. And a hundred people turned up—an amazing mixture of people, who I had never met, and who didn’t know each other—and we shut down both Vodafone stores. Suddenly, it felt like we weren’t passive anymore. We were standing up for ourselves.”

At every protest, a clear and direct line was drawn from tax avoidance to real people’s lives. If they pay their bill, you won’t be forced out of your home. If they pay their bill, your grandmother won’t lose her government support. If they pay their bill, our children’s hospitals won’t be slashed. The protests began to influence the political debate. Public opinion had already been firmly for pursuing tax dodgers, with 77 percent telling YouGov pollsters there should be a crackdown. But by dramatizing and demonstrating this mood, the protesters forced it onto the agenda—and stripped away Cameron’s claims that there was no alternative to his cuts.

Polly Toynbee is one of Britain’s most influential columnists: imagine Maureen Dowd with principles instead of snark. Toynbee attended the London protests and was manhandled out of Topshop by security guards. She reported later that the protests were being watched very nervously on Downing Street. “It is no coincidence that the government immediately hurried out a ‘clampdown’ on tax avoidance, collecting £2 billion,” she tells me, “or that [its coalition partners] the Liberal Democrats suddenly remembered this was one of their big commitments. Of course, that sum is only a drop in the ocean. But this really was a jolt to the political system. It was hugely important.”

But perhaps the most striking response was from the right. One of Britain’s most famous businessmen, Duncan Bannatyne, came out in support of the protests, declaring, “We need to rebel against tax dodgers…as Government won’t.” The Financial Times conceded that “the protesters have a point” but then grumbled about them. Surprisingly, the Daily Mail, Britain’s most right-wing newspaper, became one of the movement’s most sympathetic allies. The editors could see that their Middle England readers were outraged to be paying more taxes than the superrich. So they ran their own exposé on Philip Green’s tax affairs, along with straightforward and detailed reporting of the protests.

The only part of the media that attacked UK Uncut outright was, predictably, Rupert Murdoch’s empire. This isn’t surprising given that his company, News International, is one of the world’s most egregious tax dodgers, contributing almost nothing to the US or UK treasuries. His tabloid the Sun accused UK Uncut of being a “group of up to 30,000 anarchists” scheming “to bring misery to millions of Christmas shoppers,” with plans to “set off stink bombs, leave mouldy cheese in clothes and rack up huge sales at tills and then refuse to pay.” After one of the people named in the article reported the Sun to the Press Complaints Commission, the newspaper was forced to retract the article by removing it from its website.

But these smear jobs were the best the right could muster. Conservatives ran into hiding, with almost nobody prepared to defend tax avoiders. Only a few stray voices emerged: ultraconservative blogger Tim Montgomerie, regarded as highly influential with Cameron; and Labour MP Tom Harris, our equivalent of a Blue Dog Democrat. They argued that tax avoidance is legal and therefore fine. The protesters responded that they were obviously arguing for a change in the law.

The tax-evasion defenders also tried to argue that a crackdown would “drive away” corporations, to the detriment of the nation. But the corporations are already, for all intents and purposes, “away.” They pay nothing to Britain. They have relocated everything they can. They can’t, however, physically relocate their British shops to Bangalore. It’s impossible. That remnant can certainly be taxed. What are they going to do?

Besides, the right’s claim that enforcing fair taxes drives away the rich was recently tested—and proved wrong. Toward the end of the last Labour government, officials increased the top tax rate to 50 percent. (This is still far short of the 90 percent levied on US taxpayers by President Eisenhower, during the biggest boom in American history.) Conservatives predicted disaster: London Mayor Boris Johnson said it would reduce the city to a ghost town as bankers fled to Switzerland. Yet after the taxes rose, the number of rich people applying for visas to leave Britain for Switzerland actually fell by 7 percent.

After the empirical argument collapsed, a few on the right tried to shift the argument to a moral one. They said that Green “earns all his money on his own,” so why should he have to pay any of it back to the rest of us? I responded on TV and in a blog post by suggesting a small experiment. Let’s take one branch of Topshop, and for twelve months we’ll deny any services funded by collective taxation to that store. When the rubbish piles up, we won’t send garbage men to collect it. When the rat outbreak begins, we won’t send pest control. When they catch a shoplifter, we won’t send the police. When there’s a fire, we won’t send the fire brigade. When suppliers want to get their goods to the store, there may be a problem: we won’t maintain the roads. When the employees get sick, we won’t treat them in the publicly funded hospitals. Then let Philip Green come back and tell us he does it all himself.

The last argument of the defenders has been to say it’s impossible to do anything about tax havens, so we’ll just have to accept them. But this is false. After the 9/11 attacks, the world—under US pressure—passed virtually universal laws to freeze Al Qaeda–related accounts and so prevent them from stashing or accessing money from tax havens. Where there is political will, they can be brought to heel rapidly. In the early 1960s Monaco was refusing to hand over details of French tax dodgers to the French authorities. President Charles de Gaulle surrounded the country with tanks and cut off its water supply until it relented. On a more prosaic level, many countries have integrated into their law something called a General Anti-Avoidance Principle, which stipulates that any act contrary to the spirit of the nation’s tax laws is illegal. It slams shut most loopholes overnight.

There has been an obsessive hunt by the media to discover who UK Uncut “really are.” They assume there must be secretive leaders pulling the strings somewhere. But the more I dug into the movement, the more I realized this is a misunderstanding. The old protest movements were modeled like businesses, with a CEO and a managing board. This protest movement, however, is shaped like a hive of bees, or like Twitter itself. There is no center. There is no leadership. There is just a shared determination not to be bilked, connected by tweets. Every decision made by UK Uncut is open and driven by the will of its participants. Alongside many people who had never protested, activists from across the spectrum have poured into the movement, from the students occupying their universities to protest the massive hike in fees, to antipoverty groups like War on Want, to trade unions. Indeed, even the trade union at Britain’s IRS came out in support, with ordinary tax collectors rebelling against their bosses for letting the rich wriggle out of taxes.

Think of it as an open-source protest, or wikiprotest. It uses Twitter as the basic software, but anyone can then mold the protest. The Western left has been proud of its use of social media and blogging, but all too often this hasn’t amounted to much more than clicktivism. By contrast, these protesters have tried at every turn to create a picture of George Osborne, Cameron’s finance minister, sitting in his office, about to sign off on another big tax break for a rich person, paid for by cuts to the rest of us. Is a big Facebook group going to stop him? No. Is an angry buzz on the blogosphere going to stop him? No. But what these protesters have done—putting all the online energy into the streets and straight into the national conversation—just might. And by creating a media buzz, it draws in people from far beyond the tech-savvy Twitterverse, with older activist groups—from trade unions to charities—clamoring to join.

As one UK Uncut participant, Becky Anadeche, explains, “So many campaigns rely on the premise that the less you ask somebody to do, the more likely they are to do it. This campaign has proved the opposite. People who have never even been on a protest before have been organizing them.”

British liberals and left-wingers have been holding marches and protests for years and been roundly ignored. So why did UK Uncut suddenly gain such traction? Alex Higgins, another protester, explains, “It’s because we broke the frame that people expect protest to be confined to. Suddenly, protesters were somewhere they weren’t supposed to be—they were not in the predictable place where they are tolerated and regarded as harmless by the authorities. If UK Uncut had just consisted of a march on Whitehall [where government departments are located], where we listened to a few speakers and went home, nobody would have heard of it. But this time we went somewhere unanticipated. We disrupted something they really value: trade.” A wave of bankers’ bonuses is due to be announced in February, and it would be surprising if UK Uncut did not respond with a similar program of direct action.

Can this model be transferred to the United States? Remember that a few months ago, Brits were as pessimistic about the possibility of a left-wing rival to the Tea Party as Americans are now. Of course, there are differences in political culture and tax law structure and enforcement, but there are also strong parallels. In the United States the same three crucial factors that created UK Uncut are in place. First, at the state level, Americans are facing severe budget cuts, causing the recession to worsen. Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman says state governors are acting like “50 Herbert Hoovers…slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.”

Second, most of these cuts could be prevented simply by requiring superrich individuals and corporations to pay their taxes. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) calculated in 2008 that eighty-three of the 100 biggest US corporations hide fortunes in tax havens. And even without these shelters, the rich have been virtually exempted from taxes across America. Billionaire Warren Buffet recently conducted a straw poll in his office and found he paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than anybody else there—and considerably less than his secretary. Indeed, tax expert Nicholas Shaxson says that in many ways “America itself is a tax haven for many rich people.” WikiLeaks is poised to release the details of a whole raft of corporations and banks using tax havens in the Cayman Islands, laying out the dodging for all to see. And third, public opinion is firmly behind going after the rich and corporations. A poll in January for 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair asked Americans which policy they would choose to reduce the deficit. By far the most popular, chosen by 61 percent of respondents, was to increase taxes on the rich. The next most popular, chosen by 20 percent, was to cut military spending. Other polls bear this out. So Americans are facing the same cuts as the Brits. They are being ripped off by corporations and rich people just like the Brits. And they are as angry as the Brits. “All it takes,” says Tom Philips, “is for a few people to do what we did in that pub that night and light the touch paper.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to go after tax havens. He pointed out that one building in the Cayman Islands claims to house 12,000 corporations, and said: “That’s either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record.” He promised he would “pay for every dime” of his spending and tax cut proposals “by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens.” Yet in office he hasn’t done this. In 2009 Congress passed the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act, which shuffled a few inches forward but still doesn’t even require the automatic exchange of information from tax havens that EU law requires as a matter of right. So if a rich person opens a tax account in the Cayman Islands and hides his money there, the IRS isn’t told and doesn’t know. Yes, President Obama’s deficit commission made a few passing noises about closing tax loopholes, but the bulk of its recommendations and energy focused on going after benefits for the poor and middle class, like Social Security.

What should US Uncut target? “It’s important to go after brand names that exist in every city in America,” says Tom Purley, a UK Uncut participant. “The key to our success was that it was so easily replicated. People could do it anywhere. It took something that seems like a remote issue and connected it to a place they see every day.” Most of the companies that engage in the worst tax avoidance in the United States are Big Pharma and financial companies, which don’t have stores. But the GAO also named a number of major brands that are exploiting tax havens. They include Apple, Bank of America, Best Buy, ExxonMobil, FedEx (whose president, Frederick Smith, was named by Obama as the businessman he most admires), Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Safeway and Target. That’s a wealth of potential targets. American citizens should ask themselves: I work hard and pay my taxes, so why don’t the richest people and the corporations? Why should I pick up the entire tab for keeping the nation running? Why should the people who can afford the most pay the least? If you’re happy with that situation, you can stay at home and leave the protesting to the Tea Party. For the rest, there’s an alternative. For too long, progressive Americans have been lulled into inactivity by Obama’s soaring promises, which come to little. As writer Rebecca Solnit says, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky…. Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.” UK Uncut has just shown Americans how to express real hope—and build a left-wing Tea Party.