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News :: Alternative Media

Station silenced

Station silenced

Oct 1 2004

U.S. Marshals and FCC raid Free Radio Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ - Armed with a battering ram and three search warrants, U.S. Marshals and Federal Communication Commission agents - some with weapons drawn - Wednesday raided a local pirate radio station that's been on the air for nearly a decade.

As nearly 20 agents confiscated box-loads of equipment, including the station's antenna, which they plucked from the rooftop of the Laurel Street residence Free Radio Santa Cruz had called home for the last six months, swarms of angry protestors taunted and jeered officials, chanting, "Shame! Shame!"

Other equipment taken included computers, mixing boards, record players and CD players. A representative of the station estimated the total worth of the equipment taken at $5,000 to $10,000.

One official who briefly addressed the raucous crowd said the station was being shut down because it was operating illegally, without a license from the FCC as mandated by federal laws.

"This is a civil action today, not a criminal action against the people; search warrants were served, but no one is being arrested," Supervisor Deputy Cheryl Koel of the U.S. Marshal's San Francisco office said. "We've seized equipment and taken their antenna. This is not the U.S. Marshal's operation, but rather the FCC's. We're a law enforcement agency that is here to assist them today. People have the right to go to court and file an appeal of the decision."

Koel directed further inquiries to an FCC spokesperson in Washington, D.C., who did not return phone calls, and an official with the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, who declined comment.

Although Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.1 FM staff and supporters had little or no warning about the 9 a.m. raid, it took them less than two hours to mobilize nearly 70 protestors in front of the Zami House co-op at 708 Laurel St., where the incident took place.

"I got a call about 10 a.m. saying that federal agents had stormed the house with warrants and weapons drawn, rounding up people and taking equipment," said a station programmer, who identified himself as Augusto Cesar Sandino Segundo. "We've received many cease-and-desist orders over the years, but we've never had agents come in and shut us down like this."

According to the station's Web site, Free Radio Santa Cruz - or Freak Radio Santa Cruz, as some call it - has been operating without a license for nearly 10 years "in defiance of federal regulations."

"The FCC is charged with regulating the airwaves in the public interest," it continues. "We believe that it has failed to do so and has proved itself to be controlled by monied interests."

The station was known for its unique programming lineup, which included KPFA's "Flashpoints" and "Democracy Now," as well as a host of unusual music and local shows on politics, activism, women's issues and homeless rights, to name a few.

Tensions ran high between protestors and federal agents, who at points broke into pushing and shoving matches that spilled out into traffic on Laurel Street. Three tires were slashed on two different federal agent vehicles, delaying the transport of the confiscated equipment.

The incident created quite a commotion. Many motorists slowed and honked to show support for the station. The Santa Cruz Police Department responded to assist with traffic and crowd control.

At one point, Santa Cruz Mayor Scott Kennedy showed up to express the city's support of the station.

"If we are asked to support them, I'm sure that the City Council will," Kennedy said. "It's not my job to interfere here today, but if (the station) asks for our assistance, we'll help them - join them in their efforts. ... It's particularly important to me that, in times of war, we protect and preserve our constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech."

Most protestors were reluctant to give their real names.

"I'm just a fan," said one man waiving a sign along Laurel Street who said he was a University of California, Santa Cruz student. "I've been listening to the station since I first moved here over a year ago. They broadcast stuff you never hear on the regular radio airwaves. It's truly free speech, and it's great!"

Others stressed that Free Radio Santa Cruz was the true voice for the community.

"It's a local station, sponsored by local people," said a woman who called herself Space Ghost. "They really provide a community service by providing news and information that you just can't find anywhere else."

Even as the federal agents pulled away with truckloads of the station's equipment in their possession, several station programmers vowed that it was just a matter of time before they were back on the air. One estimated broadcasting would commence within 24 hours.

"The only real crime that's been committed here is what the FCC and U.S. Marshals have done today - by shutting us down," said one programmer who called himself Vinnie.

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News :: Alternative Media

Radio Free Santa Cruz Shut Down During Raid

Radio Free Santa Cruz Shut Down During Raid

Station Has Been Operating Without License For 10 Years

September 29, 2004

SANTA CRUZ,Calif. -- Armed federal marshals and Federal Communications Commission agents raided the studio of Free Radio Santa Cruz early Wednesday morning.

About a dozen federal agents closed down the station, confiscating all the broadcast equipment.

The supervising U.S. marshal said the station does not have a broadcast license, and, without one, the operation is illegal.

"(It is) a violation of FCC station rules and regulations, operating a radio station without license," said U.S. Marshal Cheryl Koel. "We have seized only property. It is not a criminal action against people. It is a civil action against property."

Free Radio Santa Cruz operated as an unlicensed radio station for the past 10 years.

Even though the plug was pulled, federal agents couldn't silence supporters of the all-volunteer, pirate radio station.

"They're seizing probably $5,000 worth of equipment," said a station spokesman called George.

The equipment is inside a home where 22 people live. Some tenants said they have nothing to do with the station.

Free Radio Santa Cruz programmers said they aren't surprised they were shut down.

"We've been on the air 10 years. We've been running an unlicensed station. It's always a chance. Every day you have to be prepared that this could happen," George said.

In the past, some city leaders have thrown their support behind the unlicensed radio station. Even Mayor Scott Kennedy condemned the raid.

"I'm not out here to intervene or obstruct what they're doing. I think it's in gross contrast with the sentiment of this community," Kennedy said.

Station members vow to reconnect with their hometown audience as quickly as they can.

"We're going to go back on the air. Probably, some other location at this time. But eventually, we're going to pop back on," said programmer Skidmark Bob.

No one was arrested during the raid.

Action News contacted the FCC, which would not comment on the case. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office also offered us a "no comment."

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News :: Alternative Media

U.S. agents seize control of Free Radio Santa Cruz

U.S. agents seize control of Free Radio Santa Cruz

Lawmakers, residents condemn raid of tiny station

Sep. 30, 2004
San Jose Mercury News

SANTA CRUZ - Guns drawn, agents of the U.S. Marshal Service served a warrant on a tiny Santa Cruz pirate radio station early Wednesday, rousting and frisking the pajama-clad residents of the co-op house from which the station had been broadcasting. No one was arrested.

''This is not a criminal action against people,'' said Supervising Deputy Cheryl Koel.

The target was Free Radio Santa Cruz, an FM micro-station boasting 35 to 40 watts of power and offering round-the-clock music, activism and other local programming, in addition to such national programming as Radio Pacifica's ''Democracy Now'' -- all in defiance of federal licensing laws.

The blue-jacketed marshals along with agents of the Federal Communications Commission dismantled the station's equipment and carried it to a waiting pickup with a camper shell as the crowd of perhaps 60 people yelled ''Shame! Shame!'' and ''Go home!''

Residents, programmers, friends of alternative radio and enemies of corporate media were joined by two City Council members, one council candidate and two congressional candidates. They milled around on the sidewalk and in the street, careful to avoid traffic.

Culinary consultant Joseph Schultz, founder of the legendary but now defunct India Joze, brought vegetable soup.

But despite Koel's assurances, residents of the house on Laurel Street did feel ''acted-against.''

''They got me out of bed,'' said Erin Calentine, 21. ''They were yelling, 'Federal marshals! We have a warrant! Come down! We're here for the radio,''' she said.

After being frisked, the residents were kept outside for about half an hour while the marshals ''secured the location,'' said Calentine, quoting the marshals' cop-speak.

Mayor Scott Kennedy and council member Mark Primack condemned the raid, while candidate Tony Madrigal, a union organizer by profession, led a chant of ''Si, se puede'' -- the Cesar Chavez motto that means, ''Yes, we can.'' The student co-op house is named for Chavez.

Kennedy said the city would be willing to lend assistance, perhaps by filing a friend-of-the-court brief. The fact that the station frequently airs criticism of city government ''makes it important'' that the city support it, Kennedy told the Santa Cruz Sentinel last year.

The warrant bore no names, listing as ''defendant'' ''any and all radio station equipment... used in connection with the transmissions.'' It gives the station operators 20 days to respond in court.

''I don't want the reason we're doing this to get lost in the hubbub about the raid,'' said George Cadmon, who hosts a show called ''Peace Talks.'' ''This is civil disobedience, anti-corporate action, First Amendment protest. We feel very strongly that local voices aren't getting out there.''

Evelyn Hall hosts a program called ''Eye of the Storm,'' which she describes as ''spiritual activism.'' Her daughter and a friend, both 11, have their own show, too, called ''For Your Information.'' And so does her mother, Michelle Hall, 74.

''Could it be,'' she wondered, ''they are really kind of worried?'' Hall asked, reflecting the paranoia and anger circulating in the crowd.

The station's technical director, who as Uncle Dennis plays 1960s and '70s rock, psychedelic music and blues, said the FCC has had its eye on the station for years. Uncle Dennis said the station has moved several times during its nine-plus years of life on the fringes of broadcasting. ''Every time we move, every time they come down here and find us again, they give us a Notice of Violation,'' he said.

The FCC spokeswoman declined comment on the case except to say that it was an open investigation. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco suggested a reporter consult the station's Web site,, where it charges that the FCC ''has proved itself to be controlled by monied interests.''

Cadmon estimated the value of the equipment seized Tuesday at $5,000, including the antenna agents removed from the roof. As little as $2,000, however, could put the station back on the air -- somewhere -- in a bare-bones way -- programmers said.

''It's so sad,'' said Calentine, a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. ''Because they're lovely -- such a wonderful organization. So much conviction!''

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News :: Alternative Media

Pirate radio station unplugged

Pirate radio station unplugged

September 30, 2004
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Federal agents armed with weapons and a court order seized the broadcasting equipment of Free Radio Santa Cruz on Wednesday morning, silencing the pirate radio station.

With station members, supporters and city officials looking on, about a dozen U.S. marshals and Federal Communications Commission agents raided Free Radio’s home in a two-story Victorian building on Laurel Street, felled the station’s antenna tower and carted off several boxes of transmitters and other equipment.

Tires on five of the agents’ vehicles were slashed. No arrests were made.

"It’s a sad day for free speech," said Free Radio’s Robert "Skidmark Bob" Duran. "But we’ll get it back. We’ll get more donations."

Free Radio, which counts on contributions to air its broadcasts featuring music, poetry and political views, proudly proclaims on its Web site that its commercial-free broadcasts are "in defiance of federal regulations."

The volunteers who run the operation vow the silence will be temporary. The radio station has previously been warned about its lack of a license, most recently when regulators visited the station in May.

As the agents seized equipment, the station broadcast an appeal for supporters to come to the scene.

Supervising federal deputy Cheryl Koel said three people were served with civil court orders advising them the equipment was being seized due to violations of radio station licensing regulations, an order they could protest in court.

While the FCC says pirate stations clog the bandwidth, members of the cooperative group contend they and similar operations have a right to free speech and present a crucial alternative to "mass media outlets." The station’s oldest broadcaster is 74; the youngest, 11.

Federal agents raiding the radio station refused to talk to reporters on the scene, so it was unclear what would happen to the equipment, which Duran said was worth $5,000. The volunteers have equipment at another site, Duran said, and they planned to meet with supporters Wednesday night to regroup.

The raid was not a complete surprise, station members said, but it was clearly an outrage to many. Stone-faced federal marshals were greeted with a cacophony of protesters, some shouting through bullhorns, as honking motorists responded to signs held dangerously close to traffic. The crowd mushroomed to about 60 at one point. One woman handed station operators a $20 bill while Jozseph Schultz, former owner of the popular India Joze restaurant, handed out vegetable soup.

Residents of two buildings on the property said agents knocked on the door with guns drawn about 8:45 a.m. The tense operation concluded about five hours later, with the towing of three of the agents’ disabled vehicles.

As agents carried out Free Radio’s equipment amid taunts from station supporters, Mayor Scott Kennedy reminded the volatile crowd that the City Council had passed a resolution supporting the station after an earlier threat to shut it down. Kennedy called the raid especially inappropriate in light of the country’s "wars on other fronts." City Councilman Mark Primack, who also was at the scene, professed his admiration for those who toil outside the system "where creativity happens."

Assessing the protesters’ angry confrontation with agents, Primack said officials do get to the point where they "relish putting the screws to others" and that confronting the messenger is a natural response.

In general, the FCC has five levels of enforcement, representatives say — simple requests to cease operating without a license, letters insisting operators do so, legal notices, "interim seizures" of equipment and prosecution of violating pirate radio operators. The Department of Justice decides who to prosecute, according to the FCC.

The FCC and the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment on Wednesday’s action against Free Radio, except to say that the court documents were under seal.

Kristen Phillips-Matson of Live Oak, a Free Radio listener and full-time mom who brought her toddler daughter with her, said she was there to ask agents the tough questions not asked by the mainstream media. She told an agent her brother worked in law enforcement and that "we have to work together."

"The public airways are supposed to serve the public," she said.

Duran, Free Radio’s programmer, said the collective is comprised mostly of "working-class people." A 40-year-old single parent who has at times been homeless, he said he helped launch the station almost 10 years ago with members of Food Not Bombs and others.

The station’s Web site states the FCC has "proved itself to be controlled by monied interests." Operators have chosen to sidestep FCC restrictions on programming and long waiting lists for low-wattage broadcasters.
Contact Cathy Redfern at

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News :: Alternative Media

Feds raid Santa Cruz pirate radio station

Feds raid Santa Cruz pirate radio station

Sep. 29, 2004
Mercury News

U.S. Marshal Service served a warrant on a tiny Santa Cruz pirate radio station early Wednesday, rousting and frisking the pajama-clad residents of the co-op house from which the station has been broadcasting.

No one was arrested. ``This is not a criminal action against people,'' said Supervising Deputy Cheryl Koel.

The object of the federal action was Free Radio Santa Cruz, an FM micro-station boasting from 35 to 40 watts of power and offering round-the-clock music, activism and other local programming, in addition to such national programming as Radio Pacifica's ``Democracy Now.''

The blue-jacketed marshals and agents of the Federal Communications Commission dismantled the station's equipment and carried it to a waiting pickup with a camper shell as the crowd yelled ``Shame! Shame!'' and ``Go home!''

But despite Koel's assurances, the people who lived in the house on Laurel Street did feel acted-against.

``They got me out of bed,'' said Erin Calentine, 21. ``They were yelling, `Federal marshals! We have a warrant! Come down! We're here for the radio,' '' she said.

After being frisked, the residents were kept outside for about half an hour while the marshals ``secured the location,'' said Calentine, quoting the marshals' cop-speak.

Hours later residents, programmers, friends of alternative radio and enemies of corporate media, joined by two city council members, one council candidate and two congressional candidates, milled around on the sidewalk and in the street, being careful to avoid traffic.

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News :: Environment & Food

Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to speak at UCSC

Bruce Babbitt, who served for eight years as Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton administration, will give the inaugural Fred Keeley Lecture on Environmental Policy at UCSC on Tuesday, October 5. The talk, titled "Environmental Policy for a New Century," will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Music Center Recital Hall on the UCSC campus. Admission is free and open to the general public. Parking at the Music Center is $2.00.

Bruce Babbitt

As interior secretary from 1993 to 2001, Babbitt led the administration's efforts to restore the Florida Everglades, bring peace to California's water wars with the Bay Delta Accord, and shape the old-growth forest plan in the Pacific Northwest. His advice and counsel led to the creation of 21 new national monuments and protected areas throughout the nation.

Previously, during his tenure as governor of Arizona, he enacted a landmark state water management plan and initiated public exchanges to protect vital landscapes in the state. He now serves as counsel at the law firm of Latham and Watkins in Washington, D.C., and as a member of the Board of Directors of the World Wildlife Fund.

The Keeley Lecture on Environmental Policy honors former state Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who for many years has contributed to shaping environmental policy in California. The lecture is sponsored by the STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research, which is helping UCSC researchers and their regional partners confront the rapid changes now occurring in the Earth's biodiversity, climates, and water systems. This lecture is part of a series of events in celebration of the 40th anniversary of UCSC.

For more information about the lecture, contact Abby Young at the STEPS Institute at (831) 459-1310 or

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News :: Civil & Human Rights : Environment & Food : Globalization & Capitalism

Who Owns Water?

"Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations."

As the World Summit on Sustainable Development draws closer, clear lines of contention are forming, particularly around the future of the world's freshwater resources. The setting of the summit paints the picture. Government and corporate delegates to the September meeting will gather in the lavish hotels and convention facilities of Sandton, the fabulously wealthy Johannesburg suburb that houses huge estates, English gardens and swimming pools, and has become South Africa's new financial epicenter. There, they will meet with World Bank and World Trade Organization officials to set the stage for the privatization of water.

At the same time, activists from South Africa and around the world with a very different vision will gather in very different settings to fight for a water-secure future. One such venue will be Alexandra Township, a poverty-stricken community where sanitation, electricity and water services have been privatized and cut off to those who cannot afford them. Alexandra is situated right next door to Sandton and divided only by a river so polluted that it has cholera warning signs on its banks. There could not be a more fitting setting for Rio+10 than South Africa, because neighboring Sandton and Alexandra represent the great divide that characterizes the current debate over water. Moreover, South Africa is the birthplace of one of the nucleus groups that form the heart of a new global civil society movement dedicated to saving the world's water as part of the global commons.

This movement originates in a fight for survival. The world is running out of fresh water. Humanity is polluting, diverting and depleting the wellspring of life at a startling rate. With every passing day, our demand for fresh water outpaces its availability, and thousands more people are put at risk. Already, the social, political and economic impacts of water scarcity are rapidly becoming a destabilizing force, with water-related conflicts springing up around the globe. Quite simply, unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe freshwater shortages within the next quarter-century.

It seemed to sneak up on us, or at least those of us living in the North. Until the past decade, the study of fresh water was left to highly specialized groups of experts--hydrologists, engineers, scientists, city planners, weather forecasters and others with a niche interest in what so many of us took for granted. Many knew about the condition of water in the Third World, including the millions who die of waterborne diseases every year. But this was seen as an issue of poverty, poor sanitation and injustice--all areas that could be addressed in the just world for which we were fighting.

Now, however, an increasing number of voices--including human rights and environmental groups, think tanks and research organizations, official international agencies and thousands of community groups around the world--are sounding the alarm. The earth's fresh water is finite and small, representing less than one half of 1 percent of the world's total water stock. Not only are we adding 85 million new people to the planet every year, but our per capita use of water is doubling every twenty years, at more than twice the rate of human population growth. A legacy of factory farming, flood irrigation, the construction of massive dams, toxic dumping, wetlands and forest destruction, and urban and industrial pollution has damaged the Earth's surface water so badly that we are now mining the underground water reserves far faster than nature can replenish them.

The earth's "hot stains"--areas where water reserves are disappearing--include the Middle East, Northern China, Mexico, California and almost two dozen countries in Africa. Today thirty-one countries and over 1 billion people completely lack access to clean water. Every eight seconds a child dies from drinking contaminated water. The global freshwater crisis looms as one of the greatest threats ever to the survival of our planet.

Washington Consensus

Tragically, this global call for action comes in an era guided by the principles of the so-called Washington Consensus, a model of economics rooted in the belief that liberal market economics constitutes the one and only economic choice for the whole world. Competitive nation-states are abandoning natural resources protection and privatizing their ecological commons. Everything is now for sale, even those areas of life, such as social services and natural resources, that were once considered the common heritage of humanity. Governments around the world are abdicating their responsibilities to protect the natural resources in their territory, giving authority away to the private companies involved in resource exploitation.

Faced with the suddenly well-documented freshwater crisis, governments and international institutions are advocating a Washington Consensus solution: the privatization and commodification of water. Price water, they say in chorus; put it up for sale and let the market determine its future. For them, the debate is closed. Water, say the World Bank and the United Nations, is a "human need," not a "human right." These are not semantics; the difference in interpretation is crucial. A human need can be supplied many ways, especially for those with money. No one can sell a human right.

So a handful of transnational corporations, backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are aggressively taking over the management of public water services in countries around the world, dramatically raising the price of water to the local residents and profiting especially from the Third World's desperate search for solutions to its water crisis. Some are startlingly open; the decline in freshwater supplies and standards has created a wonderful venture opportunity for water corporations and their investors, they boast. The agenda is clear: Water should be treated like any other tradable good, with its use determined by the principles of profit.

It should come as no surprise that the private sector knew before most of the world about the looming water crisis and has set out to take advantage of what it considers to be blue gold. According to Fortune, the annual profits of the water industry now amount to about 40 percent of those of the oil sector and are already substantially higher than the pharmaceutical sector, now close to $1 trillion. But only about 5 percent of the world's water is currently in private hands, so it is clear that we are talking about huge profit potential as the water crisis worsens. In 1999 there were more than $15 billion worth of water acquisitions in the US water industry alone, and all the big water companies are now listed on the stock exchanges.

Water Lords

There are ten major corporate players now delivering freshwater services for profit. The two biggest are both from France--Vivendi Universal and Suez--considered to be the General Motors and Ford of the global water industry. Between them, they deliver private water and wastewater services to more than 200 million customers in 150 countries and are in a race, along with others such as Bouygues Saur, RWE-Thames Water and Bechtel-United Utilities, to expand to every corner of the globe. In the United States, Vivendi operates through its subsidiary, USFilter; Suez via its subsidiary, United Water; and RWE by way of American Water Works.

They are aided by the World Bank and the IMF, which are increasingly forcing Third World countries to abandon their public water delivery systems and contract with the water giants in order to be eligible for debt relief. The performance of these companies in Europe and the developing world has been well documented: huge profits, higher prices for water, cutoffs to customers who cannot pay, no transparency in their dealings, reduced water quality, bribery and corruption.

Water for profit takes a number of other forms. The bottled-water industry is one of the fastest-growing and least regulated industries in the world, expanding at an annual rate of 20 percent. Last year close to 90 billion liters of bottled water were sold around the world--most of it in nonreusable plastic containers, bringing in profits of $22 billion to this highly polluting industry. Bottled-water companies like Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are engaged in a constant search for new water supplies to feed the insatiable appetite of this business. In rural communities all over the world, corporate interests are buying up farmlands, indigenous lands, wilderness tracts and whole water systems, then moving on when sources are depleted. Fierce disputes are being waged in many places over these "water takings," especially in the Third World. As one company explains, water is now "a rationed necessity that may be taken by force."

Corporations are now involved in the construction of massive pipelines to carry fresh water long distances for commercial sale while others are constructing supertankers and giant sealed water bags to transport vast amounts of water across the ocean to paying customers. Says the World Bank, "One way or another, water will soon be moved around the world as oil is now." The mass movement of bulk water could have catalytic environmental impacts. Some proposed projects would reverse the flow of mighty rivers in Canada's north, the environmental impact of which would be greater than China's Three Gorges Dam.

International Trade

At the same time, governments are signing away their control over domestic water supplies to trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, its expected successor, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and the World Trade Organization. These global trade institutions effectively give transnational corporations unprecedented access to the freshwater resources of signatory countries. Already, corporations have started to sue governments in order to gain access to domestic water sources and, armed with the protection of these international trade agreements, are setting their sights on the commercialization of water.

Water is listed as a "good" in the WTO and NAFTA, and as an "investment" in NAFTA. It is to be included as a "service" in the upcoming WTO services negotiations (the General Agreement on Trade in Services) and in the FTAA. Under the "National Treatment" provisions of NAFTA and the GATS, signatory governments who privatize municipal water services will be obliged to permit competitive bids from transnational water-service corporations. Similarly, once a permit is granted to a domestic company to export water for commercial purposes, foreign corporations will have the right to set up operations in the host country.

NAFTA contains a provision that requires "proportional sharing" of energy resources now being traded between the signatory countries. This means that the oil and gas resources no longer belong to the country of extraction, but are a shared resource of the continent. For example, under NAFTA, Canada now exports 57 percent of its natural gas to the United States and is not allowed to cut back on these supplies, even to cut fossil fuel production under the Kyoto accord. Under this same provision, if Canada started selling its water to the United States--which President Bush has already said he considers to be part of the United States' continental energy program--the State Department would consider it to be a trade violation if Canada tried to turn off the tap. And under NAFTA's "investor state" Chapter 11 provision, American corporate investors would be allowed to sue Canada for financial losses [see William Greider, "The Right and US Trade Law: Invalidating the 20th Century," October 15, 2001]. Already, a California company is suing the Canadian government for $10.5 billion because the province of British Columbia banned the commercial export of bulk water.

The WTO also opens the door to the commercial export of water by prohibiting the use of export controls for any "good" for any purpose. This means that quotas or bans on the export of water imposed for environmental reasons could be challenged as a form of protectionism. At the December 2001 Qatar ministerial meeting of the WTO, a provision was added to the so-called Doha Text, which requires governments to give up "tariff" and "nontariff" barriers--such as environmental regulations--to environmental services, which include water.

The Case Against Privatization

If all this sounds formidable, it is. But the situation is not without hope. For the fact is, we know how to save the world's water: reclamation of despoiled water systems, drip irrigation over flood irrigation, infrastructure repairs, water conservation, radical changes in production methods and watershed management, just to name a few. Wealthy industrialized countries could supply every person on earth with clean water if they canceled the Third World debt, increased foreign aid payments and placed a tax on financial speculation.

None of this will happen, however, until humanity earmarks water as a global commons and brings the rule of law--local, national and international--to any corporation or government that dares to contaminate it. If we allow the commodification of the world's freshwater supplies, we will lose the capacity to avert the looming water crisis. We will be allowing the emergence of a water elite that will determine the world's water future in its own interest. In such a scenario, water will go to those who can afford it and not to those who need it.

This is not an argument to excuse the poor way in which some governments have treated their water heritage, either squandering it, polluting it or using it for political gain. But the answer to poor nation-state governance is not a nonaccountable transnational corporation but good governance. For governments in poor countries, the rich world's support should go not to profiting from bad water management but from aiding the public sector in every country to do its job.

The commodification of water is wrong--ethically, environmentally and socially. It insures that decisions regarding the allocation of water would center on commercial, not environmental or social justice considerations. Privatization means that the management of water resources is based on principles of scarcity and profit maximization rather than long-term sustainability. Corporations are dependent on increased consumption to generate profits and are much more likely to invest in the use of chemical technology, desalination, marketing and water trading than in conservation.

Depending on desalination technology is a Faustian bargain. It is prohibitively expensive, highly energy intensive--using the very fossil fuels that are contributing to global warming--and produces a lethal byproduct of saline brine that is a major cause of marine pollution when dumped back into the oceans at high temperatures.

A New Water Ethic

The antidote to water commodification is its decommodification. Water must be declared and understood for all time to be the common property of all. In a world where everything is being privatized, citizens must establish clear perimeters around those areas that are sacred to life and necessary for the survival of the planet. Simply, governments must declare that water belongs to the earth and all species and is a fundamental human right. No one has the right to appropriate it for profit. Water must be declared a public trust, and all governments must enact legislation to protect the freshwater resources in their territory. An international legal framework is also desperately needed.

It is strikingly clear that neither governments nor their official global institutions are going to rise to this challenge. This is where civil society comes in. There is no more vital area of concern for our international movement than the world's freshwater crisis. Our entry point is the political question of the ownership of water; we must come together to form a clear and present opposition to the commodification and cartelization of the world's freshwater resources.

Already, a common front of environmentalists, human rights and antipoverty activists, public sector workers, peasants, indigenous peoples and many others from every part of the world has come together to fight for a water-secure future based on the notion that water is part of the public commons. We coordinated strategy at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, last January. We will be in South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September and in Kyoto, Japan, next March, when the World Bank and the UN bring 8,000 people to the Third World Water Forum. There, we will oppose water privatization and promote our own World Water Vision as an alternative to that adopted by the World Bank at the Second World Water Forum in The Hague two years ago. We will stand with local people fighting water privatization in Bolivia, or the construction of a mega-dam in India, or water takings by Perrier in Michigan, but now all of these local struggles will form part of an emerging international movement with a common political vision.

Steps needed for a water-secure future include the adoption of a Treaty Initiative to Share and Protect the Global Water Commons; a guaranteed "water lifeline"--free clean water every day for every person as an inalienable political and social right; national water protection acts to reclaim and preserve freshwater systems; exemptions for water from international trade and investment regimes; an end to World Bank and IMF-enforced water privatizations; and a Global Water Convention that would create an international body of law to protect the world's water heritage based on the twin cornerstones of conservation and equity. A tough challenge indeed. But given the stakes involved, we had better be up to it.

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:: Alternative Media : Resistance & Tactics

When Open-Source Wins

Q. I've been shopping around for an MP3 player, and I read that one thing I should consider is whether the gizmo can play Ogg Vorbis files. Pardon my ignorance, but what in tarnation is an Ogg Vorbis file, and why should I care in the slightest?

A. Ogg Vorbis is a compression format akin to MP3, except it's, like, way better. For starters, it packs a lot more audio enjoyment into fewer bits, meaning you can cram more high-quality songs onto your player. More importantly, it's open-source and unpatented, so musicians needn't pay a royalty when they distribute an OGG file. The downer's that too few players can rock OGGs, though the situation's getting brighter.

The Ogg Vorbis story traces back to 1998, when the company that holds the MP3 patent started charging developers for the privilege of using the format. That was real bad news for music pros who were just beginning to discover the joys of digital distribution, especially small record labels.

So a group of open-source developers, led by one Christopher Montgomery, started working on Ogg Vorbis as an MP3 alternative, releasing its first effort in 2002. Like all open-source projects, Ogg Vorbis is still very much a work in progress, as developers around the globe tweak the code to improve performance. (If you're a real brain, you can try pitching in by downloading a developer's kit from

Among the earliest adopters of Ogg Vorbis have been video game companies such as Epic Games (of Unreal Tournament fame). Record labels that post samples on their websites are also taking to the format, as are DJs who make their mixes freely available. When you're already charging zero for your work product, royalties of even a cent or two per song can send you spiraling into the red.

As if the fiscal advantage weren't enough to recommend Ogg Vorbis, it also one-ups MP3 on performance. In April, Extreme Tech ( did a very thorough comparison of the top four audio codecs: Windows Media Audio, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, and MP3. The reams of test results are too complex to fully discuss in this space, but suffice it to say that Ogg Vorbis was the top performer at 64 kilobits per second. That means it's ideal for Flash-based players, for which storage space is at a premium.

Ogg Vorbis's big minus at the moment is that you can't play its files on an iPod, nor on such popular hard-drive players as the Dell Digital Jukebox. The good news is that a few top-of-the-line players are now Ogg Vorbis-friendly: Check out the Rio Karma ( on the hard-drive side and the Jens of Sweden MP-130 ( if you'd prefer a Flash player.

As for playing Ogg Vorbis files on your PC, you can do so with Winamp (, a freeware media player. A complete list of OGG-compatible software can be found at, along with links to all the encoding and decoding tools you'd ever want. And, yes, you can find out what's up with that strange name. Mr. Roboto won't ruin the surprise.

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