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benjamin melançon

While i have momentary credibility for working through a huge backlog, my recommendation for fixing Drupal's project application process

1 min read

0. Whatever we do, we must treat new contributors substantially the same as existing contributors.

Someone who got approved for creating full projects a decade ago (like me) aren't necessarily any more versed in best security practices or what modules are already available in Drupal 8. And a long-dormant user could easily have had their Yahoo account hacked, etc.

I want a whole new system that treats old-timers the same way as newbies, but a bottleneck at the RTBC stage seems eminently preventable.

Therefore in the short term i'm pushing to add more people with the power to give people Git vetted user status. In particular, to give kattekrab the power to give people the power to approve project applications and to know the existing people with this permission to ping when there's a backlog.

1. Ideal long-term fix: Anyone who wants to promote a project to full project status needs one other person with two promoted projects to review and endorse the project.

See the proposal to let anyone with an approved project (or two) approve anyone else's project, knowing that their reputation and permission to approve projects is on the line.

benjamin melançon

An idea for dealing with Nestlé's corrupt rip-off of Fryeburg, Maine's water

2 min read

Based on an earlier report i proposed the below; the US Uncut article alludes to so-called absolute dominion laws which may complicate this, but still, here is a way to substitute good policy for horrendous policy which i hope people in Fryeburg will look into.

Pardon the unsolicited advice but if the news reports are accurate in stating that the contract with Nestlé is for the same rate people in the town pay, this is a great opportunity to put a policy in place that should be in place everywhere:

Raise water rates by ten or one hundred times, and provide a universal rebate to every person of their share of 90 percent or 99 percent of the revenue.

The median water user comes out exactly even. Everyone has an incentive to conserve water, but because of the revenue from high-use individuals and businesses, the use of some amount of water less than the median effectively becomes a funded human right.

In general, poorer people get a reward for not wasting resources, funded by richer people who are overusing resources. If you happen to have a multinational corporation extracting your resources, well, not being a person it doesn't receive any rebate at all, and pays the same full fees everyone else pays. It can choose to bestow $120,000 or $1,200,000 a month on the people of Fryeburg, or more likely it can choose to be use less or not at all.

This may take careful legal parsing but if you have some support among the people of Fryeburg, this could be a checkmate move against Nestlé.

benjamin melançon

Make polluters pay... us all

2 min read

SumOfUs told me to start a petition.

Whom are you petitioning?

Federal, state, and local governments

What do you want them to do?

Enact laws and enforce regulations which require people who harm our local and global ecology to pay affected people commensurate compensation. This means when some politician or corporate CEO flies a private jet overhead, we all get money. (Some certainly needs to be put aside for island nations being drowned by global warming, but we can work out the international aspects once we've proven the concept locally and nationally.) We'll be paying more for gasoline and electricity and the like also, but unless we're among the top polluters, which few people in the 99% will be, we'll be getting more money in carbon rebates and other repayment for pollution than our costs increase. And each of us can also decide whether to dump our rebates into paying for as much energy as we would have, or using it to improve our energy conservation and green energy generation.

Why is this important?

We face an unprecedented environmental crises, at the same time that many people are struggling to get by. Compassion requires that we not force the costs of dealing with environmental degradation on those who can least afford it—costs that can come in the form of scorching summers and other extreme weather, as well as in adopting less-polluting technologies—and fortunately basic fairness provides the solution. As long as those who pollute pay the people affected—all of us—in the proportion to the pollution generated, those with the greatest means to pay will be helping the rest of us bail the whole planet out of the mess the richest got us into.

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon

benjamin melançon

In defense of money rewards for cooperative founders

3 min read

[In response to a post on the Internet of Ownership discussion list which posited that money rewards are a slippery slope leading to thinking of incentive in terms of money for a bigger house, flying on holiday, etc., and citing not-for-profits who definitely don't do it for the money.]

Keeping people who are attracted primarily to money and power in check is important in any movement. But that requires a different set of safeguards—which one member, one vote is a major step toward—from not using money as compensation or reward at all. Disentangling founding from leading is one important step, so note that nothing below is an argument for higher compensation for so-called leadership.

I think 'reward for founders' is just as applicable in the not-for-profit sector.

An anecdote: The founder of the Center for the Arts in Natick, Michael Moran, spent five years and several thousands of his own money starting it as a strong community-oriented arts center. Shortly after succeeding in moving from a storefront to the former firehouse with significant town support, the establishment types brought onto the board of directors staged a palace coup with a minority of the board (but the majority at a meeting called with questionable legality) and fired the founder from the Executive Director position. Most of the community-participation events stopped.

Being motivated more by injustice than by art, apparently, that's when i got involved and helped found Amazing Things Arts Center as a community-oriented arts center with Michael Moran as founding executive director and with a board of directors elected by the membership. It ultimately ended up the next town over, and, eventually, in a bigger firehouse. As the Johnny Most would say, and justice prevailed. Amazing Things is technically a cooperative organization, although no one used that term at the time we founded it.

We were necessarily very concerned with just compensation for the executive director who, for the second time, is putting in significant time and resources before the organization had the means to support itself, this time going debt. There wasn't a straightforward legal way to set aside back pay or construe his input as a loan to the organization.

In a world that does not guarantee food, shelter, and medical care to all, it is of great importance that we structure cooperatives so that people involved in starting it — including finding and convincing various sorts of members to join in — have a fairly direct path to replacing lost income, retirement savings, etc.

For cooperatives and particularly platform cooperatives to supplant parasitic capitalist corporations, we do need them to offer both a way to pay back loans that may come from a variety of sources (even if we have an excellent coop loan fund) and, yes, to recompense in material terms what will often be material sacrifice.

Financial reward on top of that is fine too, and what people do with that, from traveling the world to starting another cooperative, is up to them. Cooperatives' historic potential is to eliminate the rents that go to the 1% in perpetuity— reward for actual contributions to society are well within the cooperative frame.

(Incidentally, anyone in the Natick/Framingham/*borough area of Massachusetts, check out !)

benjamin melançon

On the lack of off-the-shelf themes in Drupal

2 min read

Free Software is ethically and practically a vastly better development model than proprietary software. Funding that development, however, is currently more difficult— putting a lot of effort into crafting something will not necessarily result in receiving remuneration when people see it and use it. WordPress has more themes seen as fitting peoples needs and aesthetic tastes in part because there's a culture of paying for things, a culture that is in part enabled by less commitment to Free Software principles— in particular, non-Free licenses for extensions to the core software such as themes. We don't want to go that non-Free direction in Drupal, which unfortunately makes it harder to make things not gratis. The Snowball model Gus Austin refers to would rely on many people identifying a common need and coming together to fund that need in advance— and that makes it a difficult model for themes, whereas Steve Burge makes clear the issue is people finding a theme in the first place.

A Drupal 8 turnkey platform (which may come out of the Drutopia project as a platform cooperative, the best possible option in my opinion) would be better positioned to help address the themes issue: With Free Software as a service, people are already paying for the convenience of having hosting and sensibly-configured software all provided together; having included in the price or paying a bit more for a theme which goes to the theme's designers and coders is a much easier sell... so to speak.

benjamin melançon

We don't want the gray zone

3 min read

It's good to see more media outlets recognizing that ISIS uses terrorist attacks to provoke repression by European, US, and other governments that pushes Muslims to embrace ISIS in vengeance and defense. This recognition is aided by ISIS' own media celebrating after attacks that "eliminated the grayzone."

However, we should also want to eliminate the gray zone, and by we I mean 99.9999% of the world's population in whose interest it is to end any rule by or power of murderous fanatics. We want there to be a clear demarcation between the rest of us and these terrorists. We want literally every non-terrorist person to align themselves against the terrorists. This shouldn't be a hard sell.

Success against such a self-celebratorily violent and small group with little power (aside from our weapons), which desperately needs both passive support and new recruits ready to die, is most easily based on us not being terrorists ourselves. Unfortunately, after fifteen years of failure, it's apparent our leaders and the war profiteers that own them don't want success.

We have a lot to live down before we can present a clear, non-violent, non-terroristic, non-murderous alternative to ISIS. The United States' entirely unjustified invasion of Iraq killed at least a half-million people since 2003, following a similar number killed by the US war in 1990-1991 and the ensuing sanctions and multiple aerial bombardments. US attempts at military domination in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere feature regular attacks on civilians, including weddings and hospitals. Raining death on people from the air continues in Syria also, and of course the US bears responsibility for getting ISIS weapons to take part in the civil war in the first place. Above all, use of drones is particularly terrorizing and pushes people toward terrorist responses, whether used in war zones or outside, where the extrajudicial killings are not distinguishable from murder.

But not to start now — by ending aerial-only attacks which inevitably kill innocents, by accepting all Iraqi and Syrian refugees from ISIS and the conditions we created (and so depriving ISIS of its state to rule over), by supporting local control including over oil resources, by supporting with the billions we spend on bombs something like guaranteed incomes to all who remain to rebuild — is to plan for failure, expensive in lives and money (though profitable for military suppliers contractors). To defeat ISIS most quickly and completely requires our governments stop acting like them.

benjamin melançon

More than 60 dead, locked in while factory burns. We must stop #TPP and support workers everywhere

1 min read

As more than 60 people are feared to be dead in a Phillippines slipper factory after workers were tragically trapped in it during a fire, stop to think how this is happening in 2015 and what we can do.

The situation is that our jobs were outsourced without the safer working conditions— safer working conditions won by US workers and progressive allies in part after similar profit-fueled tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire more than 100 years ago. (The murdering owners got away with their ownership intact then, too.)

While we were still far from achieving justice here in the US, this sort of globalization is dragging us, collectively, backwards.  It is not fair trade, and workers are paying with their lives.  Passing laws requiring minimum working condition standards for items imported into the US is one way to mitigate this that capital privilege agreements like the TPP will make illegal.  We need to oppose it and find every way we can to join workers everywhere in struggles for safe working conditions, more control over work, and better pay— while fighting for full economic justice.

benjamin melançon

A big way to gain more control over our lives: democratic ownership of our homes

2 min read

Last Thursday evening Matt Meyer of the Cooperative Development Institute spoke at a community forum in Jamaica Plain which featured worker cooperatives, including several local heroes from CERO.  As a worker-owner at Agaric i'm all about worker-owned cooperatives, but it was the other work Matt does that fascinated me: helping people in mobile home parks and other low-income housing clusters to purchase, collectively, their whole community.

The CDI's New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) program began in 2009 and is modeled on the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's ROC-NH which began in 1983 and still has New Hampshire covered.  Altogether they have an impressive track record helping residents own their communities. They help with planning, organizing, and continuing to run the communities, but the main material support CDI and other groups provide is loaning enough money that major traditional institutional lenders feel comfortable owning the rest.

This resident owned community movement is particularly inspiring because the mobile home industry as a whole has historically used lax regulations to exploit people who have few options. Today, people pay many times the value of their homes while enriching one of the world's wealthiest investment groups, as Berkshire-Hathaway has consolidated the industry of building and selling mobile homes— where what is really being sold is a predatory loan. The exploitive nature of trailer parks themselves is underscored by the infamous Carlyle Group recently increasing its purchasing of mobile home parks.

Matt said that operating a manufactured home park is operating a business, so they have begun following their playbook for helping residents purchase their communities to help workers purchase their companies. The possibilities for fusions and intersections of housing and worker cooperatives are exciting to me, and I think will be to a colleague who has floated ideas about buying residential buildings and running them so efficiently (and without trying to extract obscene rents, in the classic economic sense) that we can drive bad landlords straight out of business, and keep expanding the areas under people's own control.