Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

November 23, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Malaysian Authorities Blocked Websites Reporting on Massive Personal Data Theft Scandal

Secure Data, Data Privacy. Image from Flickr by Blue Coats Photos. CC BY-SA 2.0

Between May and July 2014, 46.2 million phone numbers in Malaysia were obtained through a data breach and leaked online.

But most Malaysians did not know about the breach until technology news portal Lowyat.net reported the news on October 19, when someone tried to sell the data through the website’s forum page.

The leak included postpaid and prepaid mobile phone numbers, customer details, addresses as well as SIM card information from 14 different telecommunication companies. Also included in the leak was the medical information of about 80,000 persons from the databases of three medical associations. It is reportedly the largest case of personal data breach in Malaysian history.

The government regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) asked Lowyat.net to take down the article while a probe into the breach is being conducted. The article was removed but restored a few days later. MCMC said it worked with telcos to determine the cause of the data breach and is already preparing to arrest a suspect.

Dissatisfied with the slow action of the government and telcos in providing information to the public, tech blogger Keith Rozario created and uploaded the Sayakenahack microsite on November 12, 2017 to help users verify if their phone number was among those leaked in 2014. Rozario is a Malaysian architect based in Singapore who blogs about technology issues.

Screenshot of the Sayakenahack website

Rozario clarified that the data he used in Sayakenahack is already publicly available and that he merely made it easier for ordinary Internet users to verify whether their personal information was affected. He added that the privacy of users is protected because the website does not reveal the complete information of those who submitted their phone numbers.

According to news reports, Sayakenahack was visited by 150,000 people within 36 hours of operation.

But acting upon a formal request from the Data Privacy Protection Department, MCMC blocked Sayakenahack for violating the Private Data Protection Act of 2010.

Rozario advised users on how to access the website through other means, but he agreed to take down the website on November 19.

Like Rozario, Lowyat.net is frustrated with the slow response of authorities:

We are extremely concerned that no remedial action has been taken by the service providers involved to protect those that have been affected by the breach. In this day where everything is stored electronically, data security breaches are not something to be taken lightly.

But it supported the decision of MCMC to block Sayakenahack:

Keith Rozario is the good guy here, who set up the site for a very noble purpose, however, that does not stop unscrupulous individuals from abusing the data for their own needs. There will also always be a big question mark on whether it is right for the data to be manipulated in any way without consent from the actual owners.

For his part, Rozario defended his decision to create Sayakenahack:

I believe that you have a right to know about it, in a timely manner. Authorities can’t sit on the data for weeks without letting you know on any pretense.

To ban Sayakenahack is to say geeks and hackers can access the data — but not the average joe. It’s emphasizing that normal people don’t deserve that knowledge while geeks and hackers do.

This is elitism, and it’s wrong.

Some Twitter users criticized the MCMC for blocking Sayakenahack:

Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty accused the MCMC of prioritizing the arrest of Internet users who are ‘insulting’ politicians on social media instead of strengthening the country’s data protection capabilities.

What have MCMC done to ensure that the personal data stored on public and commercial websites are secured? Did these websites and MCMC know about the breach earlier but failed to inform the public or their customers? MCMC should also be updating the public from time to time regarding the progress of their investigation instead of keeping a general silence on the matter.

MCMC must get their priorities right. Instead of wasting valuable resources in trying to rein in ‘insulting’ remarks against the Prime Minister and other personalities, MCMC should be focusing on real crimes and issues like fraud and data security.

Rozario’s work was appreciated by The Star newspaper which published an editorial after the blocking of Sayakenahack:

Thanks to him, a few Malaysians can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing their personal information was not leaked.

For this much needed public service – filling in the gaping chasm of inactivity on the part of the telcos concerned – the MCMC decided to block the site

It is a pity that instead of lauding his effort, too many of us decided to shoot the messenger

by Mong Palatino at November 23, 2017 03:45 PM

Global Voices
Malaysian Authorities Blocked Websites Reporting on Massive Personal Data Theft Scandal

Secure Data, Data Privacy. Image from Flickr by Blue Coats Photos. CC BY-SA 2.0


Between May and July 2014, 46.2 million phone numbers in Malaysia were obtained through a data breach and leaked online.

But most Malaysians did not know about the breach until technology news portal Lowyat.net reported the news on October 19, when someone tried to sell the data through the website’s forum page.

The leak included postpaid and prepaid mobile phone numbers, customer details, addresses as well as SIM card information from 14 different telecommunication companies. Also included in the leak was the medical information of about 80,000 persons from the databases of three medical associations. It is reportedly the largest case of personal data breach in Malaysian history.

The government regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) asked Lowyat.net to take down the article while a probe into the breach is being conducted. The article was removed but restored a few days later. MCMC said it worked with telcos to determine the cause of the data breach and is already preparing to arrest a suspect.

Dissatisfied with the slow action of the government and telcos in providing information to the public, tech blogger Keith Rozario created and uploaded the Sayakenahack microsite on November 12, 2017 to help users verify if their phone number was among those leaked in 2014. Rozario is a Malaysian architect based in Singapore who blogs about technology issues.

Screenshot of the Sayakenahack website

Rozario clarified that the data he used in Sayakenahack is already publicly available and that he merely made it easier for ordinary Internet users to verify whether their personal information was affected. He added that the privacy of users is protected because the website does not reveal the complete information of those who submitted their phone numbers.

According to news reports, Sayakenahack was visited by 150,000 people within 36 hours of operation.

But acting upon a formal request from the Data Privacy Protection Department, MCMC blocked Sayakenahack for violating the Private Data Protection Act of 2010.

Rozario advised users on how to access the website through other means, but he agreed to take down the website on November 19.

Like Rozario, Lowyat.net is frustrated with the slow response of authorities:

We are extremely concerned that no remedial action has been taken by the service providers involved to protect those that have been affected by the breach. In this day where everything is stored electronically, data security breaches are not something to be taken lightly.

But it supported the decision of MCMC to block Sayakenahack:

Keith Rozario is the good guy here, who set up the site for a very noble purpose, however, that does not stop unscrupulous individuals from abusing the data for their own needs. There will also always be a big question mark on whether it is right for the data to be manipulated in any way without consent from the actual owners.

For his part, Rozario defended his decision to create Sayakenahack:

I believe that you have a right to know about it, in a timely manner. Authorities can’t sit on the data for weeks without letting you know on any pretense.

To ban Sayakenahack is to say geeks and hackers can access the data — but not the average joe. It’s emphasizing that normal people don’t deserve that knowledge while geeks and hackers do.

This is elitism, and it’s wrong.

Some Twitter users criticized the MCMC for blocking Sayakenahack:

Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty accused the MCMC of prioritizing the arrest of Internet users who are ‘insulting’ politicians on social media instead of strengthening the country’s data protection capabilities.

What have MCMC done to ensure that the personal data stored on public and commercial websites are secured? Did these websites and MCMC know about the breach earlier but failed to inform the public or their customers? MCMC should also be updating the public from time to time regarding the progress of their investigation instead of keeping a general silence on the matter.

MCMC must get their priorities right. Instead of wasting valuable resources in trying to rein in ‘insulting’ remarks against the Prime Minister and other personalities, MCMC should be focusing on real crimes and issues like fraud and data security.

Rozario’s work was appreciated by The Star newspaper which published an editorial after the blocking of Sayakenahack:

Thanks to him, a few Malaysians can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing their personal information was not leaked.

For this much needed public service – filling in the gaping chasm of inactivity on the part of the telcos concerned – the MCMC decided to block the site

It is a pity that instead of lauding his effort, too many of us decided to shoot the messenger

by Mong Palatino at November 23, 2017 03:38 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/23/2017: How smartphones help get cranberries from the bog to your turkey dinner
Americans eat and drink about 400 million pounds of cranberries each year. Twenty percent of that is during Thanksgiving. The technology that goes into growing, harvesting, and selecting cranberries has changed significantly in the last handful of years. Marketplace’s Adriene Hill talks with Hilary Sandler, director of the Cranberry Station, a research center at UMass Amherst, about how cranberry farming has changed.

by Marketplace at November 23, 2017 11:30 AM

Global Voices
Social Media Rumors Escalate Buddhist-Muslim Violence in Sri Lanka

Screenshot allegedly showing the house of a Sri Lankan Muslim damaged by a mob attack by Sri Lankan Buddhists. Video by Haroon Ali via YouTube.

Tensions between Sinhalese Buddhists and members of the minority Muslim community in southern Sri Lanka have escalated in recent days. Police say this is thanks in part to the spread of false information on social media.

Clashes in the coastal town of Gintota, in Galle state, reportedly began after a Muslim child was knocked down by a Sinhalese motorcyclist on 13 November 2017, for which he paid compensation to the victim to settle the matter. On 16 November 2017, a group of Sinhalese young people assaulted two Muslim motorbike riders, citing the 13 November incident. One of the riders ended up in the hospital for his injuries.

Reacting to that incident, a group sympathetic to the Muslim rider attacked two houses belonging to Sinhalese people, resulting in one Sinhalese man was hospitalized. The police made several arrests that day apprehending the persons responsible for triggering violence.

Ratnasiri Malalagama and Nandana Nanneththi reported at the World Socialist Website:

At 4.17 p.m. on Friday, an individual called Uchitha Arunodha Gunasekera posted a note on his Facebook page calling for everyone in the Galle area “to gather at the Thuparamaya temple in Gintota against Muslims.” The violent attack was discussed and prepared at the temple.

Then on 17 November 2017 night, a small mosque and several houses belonging to Muslims in Gintota were attacked by Sinhalese mobs.

YouTube user Haroon Ali uploaded a video allegedly showing the damages to properties:

Since then, several people have been injured and multiple vehicles (owned mostly by Muslims) have been destroyed. At least 62 homes and businesses were attacked in the Gintota area.

Special Task Force (STF) police officers have been deployed to the area and have imposed a night curfew as a security measure to prevent further violence. Nineteen people, 16 Sinhalese and three Muslims, have been arrested.

The Muslim minority has been targeted with violence before

Unfounded rumors on social media have caused the situation to escalate even further, police say. In particular, they have pointed messages claiming that Muslims were planning to attack a Buddhist temple. The police have also said that they are investigating into persons who had published false or inflammatory reports on the incident and that they would be arrested for it.

Muslims make up roughly 10 percent of Sri Lanka's population of about 21 million, while 70% adhere to Buddhism (mostly of the Theravada school) and most others to Hindu traditions. Ethnically, 75% are Sinhalese, about 10% are Sri Lankan Moors (who are Muslims and speak Tamil) and almost 15% are Tamils (Sri Lankan and Indians).

Tensions have risen between the two communities this year, with sporadic incidents of Buddhist hardliners targeting the Muslim community with accusations of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalizing Buddhist archaeological sites. More than 20 attacks on Muslims, including arson at Muslim-owned businesses and petrol-bomb attacks on mosques, have been recorded since April 2017.

Following the latest violence, some were left questioning if the government response was sufficient:

Disinformation spread on Sri Lankan social media

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka vowed to take action against rumor mongers: “Some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash,” he said.

But not all social media messages about the clashes are unfounded. This cartoon by Cartoon Lanka argues that mainstream media in Sri Lanka are ignoring a very real conflict at hand:

Misinformation nevertheless has been a persistent problem in Sri Lanka. A July editorial by Global Voices partner Groundviews recalled past examples of incitements against minorities and highlighted the activities of the Buddhist hardliner group Bodhu Bala Sena:

When this group first became active, they spread hate messages, mainly through Facebook, claiming, for example, that popular Muslim-owned shop No Limit was giving out toffees which, when consumed, would render Sinhalese mothers infertile. These rumors persist even today.

The editorial noted that:

Sri Lankans tend to digest media uncritically and unquestioningly. This will have to change in order to stop misinformation from spreading – and this can be done through spreading awareness – whether through short videos, articles on how to spot fake news or training.

by Rezwan at November 23, 2017 09:27 AM

The Young Musicians From “Symphony for Peru” Touched Souls at Madrid's Royal Theater

Members of Symphony for Peru in Madrid, Spain. Image used with permission.

Symphony for Peru is an organization created by renowned Peruvian operatic tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, as a way to change the lives of disadvantaged Peruvian youth through music.

According to the website, data obtained from a study of children who participated in the program, show a marked improvement in many areas of their lives:

20% MÁS CREATIVOS
30% MÁS SEGUROS DE SÍ MISMOS
29% MENOS AGRESIVOS

20% MORE CREATIVE
30% MORE SELF-ASSURED
29% LESS AGGRESSIVE

Currently, there are about 7000 children and over 20 formation centers all over the country that have felt the benefits of Symphony for Peru. In 2014, the Development Effectiveness Overview (DEO) stated:

The project established four musical centers in four very different areas in Peru: the marginalized, urban ghettos of Trujillo (coastal), Huancayo (mountain), Huánuco (rainforest), and Manchay-Lima (desert). Each center brings music to […] children and adolescents living at or below the poverty level. […] The setting of the program helps children build their self-esteem, encourages them to have goals in life and to achieve those goals, promotes improved school performance, strengthens family ties, and facilitates positive involvement in their community.

On the group website, we can find accounts from some of the children who participate with the orchestra about what the program means to them:

La música para mí es algo que se debe tocar con sentimiento, con emoción [pero que necesita también] de disciplina. Cuando toco el violín me siento más feliz, más emocionada. Contenta de poder tener en mis manos un instrumento que me llena de felicidad.

To me, music is something that has to be felt while being played, with excitement [but it also needs] discipline. When I play the violin, I feel happier, more excited. Happy to have an instrument in my hands that makes me so happy.

Expanding horizons

On October 29, 2017, a group from Symphony for Peru — alongside founder Juan Diego Flórez — made their way to Spain to participate in the 15th anniversary celebration of Volunteers Telefónica at Madrid's Royal Theater. 

Part of the group at Lima airport, before flying to Spain. Image used with permission.

On their Facebook page, the group uploaded a brief interview with Flórez, rehearsal videos and a rendition of the well-known song, Mambo No. 5:

&

Sinfonía por el Perú en el Teatro Real

#SomosSpp🎶Gran concierto ayer Domingo 29 en el Teatro Real con Sinfonía por el Perú y la Escuela de Música Reina Sofía por el 15 Aniversario de Voluntarios Telefónica ✨🇵🇪👏¡Gracias Telefónica y Fundación Telefónica por la inolvidable experiencia!#CantoTocoCrezco

Geplaatst door Sinfonía por el Perú op maandag 30 oktober 2017

Symphony for Peru at Royal Theater
We are all Symphony for Peru 🎶Great concert yesterday, Sunday 29 at Royal Theater with Symphony for Peru and Queen Sofia Music School to celebrate 15 years of Volunteers Telefónica ✨🇵🇪👏 Thanks, Telefónica and Telefónica Foundation for such an unforgettable experience! #ISingIPlayIGrowUp
Publicado por Symphony for Peru on October 30, 2017.

While they were in the Spanish capital, Symphony for Peru also took the opportunity to rehearse with members of the Queen Sofia Music School. It was a moment for both groups to exchange and share experiences through music.

Rehearsals before performing at Royal Theater. Image used with permission.

On Twitter, the group shared videos and photos of their tour in Spain and some of the events they participated in:

Great concert and Royal Theater, with Juan Diego Flórez, Queen Sofia Music School on the 15 anniversary of Volunteers Telefonica.🎼👏❤

Very proud of our kids! 👏❤

Symphony for Peru concert at Royal Theater, Madrid.
———-
Symphony for Peru concert at Royal Theater, Madrid.

With all these activities, these young musicians have started on a path that will certainly allow them to “sing, play, grow!“.

by Gabriela García Calderón at November 23, 2017 12:01 AM

November 22, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Serbian Journalists Call on Citizens to Support a Media Freedom Campaign

Street action for media freedom in Belgrade, Serbia. Messages written on the stand: #ForFreeMedia #StopMediaDarkness and #SupportTheDemands. Photo by Anđela Milivojević, used with permission.

Serbian journalists and activists rallied in the streets of Belgrade and four other Serbian cities on November 19 to garner support from citizens for demands they have made to Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic.

Street actions were organized in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Vranje, where journalists and activists distributed leaflets to citizens, promoting the list of 13 demands regarding media freedoms and journalists’ safety. The list was created by the group For Media Freedom and included recommendations gathered from media and civil society organizations, journalism associations, activists and ordinary citizens.

“The most important part of the action of the group ‘For Media Freedom’ is to remind citizens that media and journalists are necessary because they cannot [live] without information,” explained Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia president Slavisa Lekic.

Today we are at three locations in Belgrade:
– Terazije
– Trg Republike (Republic Square)
– Knez Mihailova (Ruski car)
Drop by, sign the petition for support, spread the news about #ForMediaFreedom

The list of 13 demands outlined urgent measures necessary to secure equal treatment for all journalists and prevent the collapse of free media in Serbia. Independent journalists have been repeatedly ignored and prevented from asking ‘difficult questions’ to public officials or barred from obtaining information in the public interest. Independent journalists are often labeled as ‘spies,’ ‘traitors’ or ‘foreign mercenaries.’

For Media Freedom has also asked authorities to solve all cases of murdered journalists, and to investigate recent attacks. The list included demands regarding the independence of public broadcasters, which are seen as pro-government media outlets, and for the elimination of pressures against journalists including those exercised through the judiciary.

Image: #SupportTheDemands
Tweet: Tomorrow [we are] in the new action #ForMediaFreedom in Kragujevac, Nish, Vranje, Belgrade and Novi Sad. Be with us from 12 to 15 hrs #StopMediaDarkness

Before petitioning for signatures from ordinary citizens, the journalists presented PM Brnabic with the list. She then promised to respond to their demands in ten days, without any speculations as to what kind of response might be expected.

How did the group ‘For Media Freedom’ begin?

“For Media Freedom” began as an informal group in September 2017 after a series of incidents against free and independent media occurred, including the closure of the prominent weekly Novine Vranjske [Vranje Newspaper], which had been published for more than 20 years in the southern Serbian town of Vranje.

The founder of Vranjske and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association Vukasin Obradovic went on a hunger strike on September 19 to protest the newspaper's closure, which had been subjected to political and financial pressures and also against the “decline in media freedoms in Serbia.”

Roughly one hundred journalists, editors, and activists gathered the same night in a protest known as ‘I stand with Vranjske’, showing their support for Obradovic, after which he ended his strike and joined the group ‘For Media Freedom’ and continued publishing Vranjske online.

However, Obradovic recently announced that he was unable to provide funds for journalists and contributors and that he was forced to shut down the portal vranjske.co.rs as well.

Due to inability to secure minimum conditions for work, and to provide regular payment of salaries for the regular employees and fees for the freelancers, as the owner I was forced to bring a decision to cease functioning of the portal vranjske.co.rs.

Staging creative protests

On September 28, For Media Freedom also staged a website blackout in defense of free speech, using the black screen to symbolize a world without free media.

The group also organized a protest on November 9 at the recent EU and Western Balkans Media Days in Tirana, Albania by standing in black shirts with the sign #EUdoMore, asking the EU to support professional journalism in Serbia and not to ignore a deteriorating situation for Serbian media.

Journalist Tamara Skrozza, a member of For Free Media, told the panel in Tirana that the EU should do more so that “[they] could believe again in their messages that media freedom are a priority in the process of EU integration.” The panel was attended by EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, a member of the European Commission in charge of overseeing the accession and negotiation process of future EU member states such as Serbia.

Serbian press freedoms continue to decline

Serbia has achieved “some level of preparation concerning freedom of expression” according to the latest EU progress report on Serbia from November 2016, but made no progress the previous year.

In the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders for 2016, published in April 2017, Serbia was ranked 66th, a decline of seven positions compared to 2015. The report further specified: “Media freedom has declined ever since Aleksandar Vucic, Slobodan Milosevic’s former information minister, became Prime Minister in May 2014.”

Vucic, who is now the president and still the most powerful person in the country, is not officially against the free press, but he has effectively curtailed press freedoms by choosing several media outlets which serve as government mouthpieces and stage campaigns against opposition, independent journalists, state enemies, so that Vucic presents as a pro-EU reformer.

by Advox at November 22, 2017 11:07 PM

Identity Theft Risk Prompts Estonia to Block the Certificates of 760,000 ID Cards

Screenshot from a promotional video about Estonian ID cards from government's website e-Estonia.com.

On November 4, 2017 the Estonian authorities disabled the certificates of more than 760,000 national electronic ID cards due to a security vulnerability that could have compromised cards issued between October 16, 2014 and October 26, 2017, and possibly even earlier.

More so than most other countries, Estonia relies on digital technology for many basic services including getting prescription medication, voting, bank transfers, and digital signatures. In fact 98% of Estonians have an ID card that they are able to use as a valid travel ID within Europe, access health insurance, and pay taxes. Digital ID cards were introduced in 2002 and have become the cornerstone of the country’s e-services. Estonia has one of the world’s fastest broadband services and has established strong digital literacy, widespread internet connectivity and e-governance.

The certificate software within the blocked ID cards will be replaced with new, more secure one, in a national-wide effort to deal with the risk of privacy breach. These certificates were deactivated after a group of researchers from the Czech Republic identified a security flaw in the cards’ microchips that could have led to major breaches of citizen's personal data. The researchers found that the chips installed in ID cards issued between October 16, 2014 and October 26, 2017 (though possibly as early as 2012) were vulnerable to infiltration of both private and public keys and possible identity theft.

The chips were manufactured by Infineon, a microelectronics company with headquarters in the US and Germany, that provides services including government identification, mobile security and embedded security and trusted computing.

The Estonian government says that no infiltration has yet taken place, and that authorities disabled the affected ID cards as a precautionary measure to ensure no harm to citizen data. To guarantee that e-government continued to function, an estimated 35,000 people who use their ID card for their work, such as government officials and doctors, were updated to a safer version first.

On November 2, 2017 Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said in a statement:

E-riigi toimimine püsib usaldusel ning riik ei saa lubada Eesti ID-kaardi omaniku identiteedi vargust. Praeguse teadmise järgi ei ole e-identideedi vargust aset leidnud, kuid PPA ja RIA ohuhinnang näitab, et see oht on muutunud reaalseks.

The functioning of an e-state is based on trust and the state cannot afford identity theft happening to the owner of an Estonian ID card. As far as we currently know, there has been no instances of e-identity theft, but the threat assessment of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Information System Authority indicates that this threat has become real.

The security threat uncovered by Czech researchers is not limited to Estonian ID cards alone. Presumably, all chipsets produced by Infineon during that time carry the same flaw. Therefore computer systems around the world that use Infineon chipsets are also at risk of infiltration. The vulnerability illuminated the grave security challenges that can come with the digitization of national ID cards and systems.

Social media discussions about this issue included Twitter comments by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former President of the Republic of Estonia (2006-2016) who suggested that the “real story” is about Gemalto, the manufacturer of the cards, which appears to have learned about the vulnerability in February, but had not shared this information with customers. Since 2001 Estonian electronic ID cards have been manufactured by Trub AG and its successor Gemalto AG, Swiss companies that use Infineon technologies.

Former President Ilves claimed the Dutch firm “informed commercial users but not the public sector (paying) clients,” urging journalists to look more in depth into the issue.

Estonia's move to replace the cards’ certificates also attracted attention from information society enthusiasts across the region of Eastern and Central Europe. In a Facebook discussion, a Serbian IT expert living in Estonia explained the end user perspective through comments:

Obavestili su nas pre nekoliko meseci (dok je rizik bio samo teoretski), a pre par nedelja su pustili update sertifikata kroz zvaničnu app (ne mora da se menja ID). Trenutno ume da štuca autorizacija, ali imamo i rezervni način autorizovanja (preko mobilne app) tako da nismo blokirani.

We were notified several months ago (while the risk was only theoretic), and a few weeks ago they released updates of the certificates through an official app (so one doesn't have to change the ID). At the moment the authorization process sometimes has some hiccups, but there's a backup authorisation method via a mobile phone app, so we are not blocked at all.

by Advox at November 22, 2017 11:05 PM

Global Voices
Serbian Journalists Call on Citizens to Support a Media Freedom Campaign

Street action for media freedom in Belgrade, Serbia. Messages written on the stand: #ForFreeMedia #StopMediaDarkness and #SupportTheDemands. Photo by Anđela Milivojević, used with permission.

Serbian journalists and activists rallied in the streets of Belgrade and four other Serbian cities on November 19 to garner support from citizens for demands they have made to Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic.

Street actions were organized in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Vranje, where journalists and activists distributed leaflets to citizens, promoting the list of 13 demands regarding media freedoms and journalists’ safety. The list was created by the group For Media Freedom and included recommendations gathered from media and civil society organizations, journalism associations, activists and ordinary citizens.

“The most important part of the action of the group ‘For Media Freedom’ is to remind citizens that media and journalists are necessary because they cannot [live] without information,” explained Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia president Slavisa Lekic.

Today we are at three locations in Belgrade:
– Terazije
– Trg Republike (Republic Square)
– Knez Mihailova (Ruski car)
Drop by, sign the petition for support, spread the news about #ForMediaFreedom

The list of 13 demands outlined urgent measures necessary to secure equal treatment for all journalists and prevent the collapse of free media in Serbia. Independent journalists have been repeatedly ignored and prevented from asking ‘difficult questions’ to public officials or barred from obtaining information in the public interest. Independent journalists are often labeled as ‘spies,’ ‘traitors’ or ‘foreign mercenaries.’

For Media Freedom has also asked authorities to solve all cases of murdered journalists, and to investigate recent attacks. The list included demands regarding the independence of public broadcasters, which are seen as pro-government media outlets, and for the elimination of pressures against journalists including those exercised through the judiciary.

Image: #SupportTheDemands
Tweet: Tomorrow [we are] in the new action #ForMediaFreedom in Kragujevac, Nish, Vranje, Belgrade and Novi Sad. Be with us from 12 to 15 hrs #StopMediaDarkness

Before petitioning for signatures from ordinary citizens, the journalists presented PM Brnabic with the list. She then promised to respond to their demands in ten days, without any speculations as to what kind of response might be expected.

How did the group ‘For Media Freedom’ begin?

“For Media Freedom” began as an informal group in September 2017 after a series of incidents against free and independent media occurred, including the closure of the prominent weekly Novine Vranjske [Vranje Newspaper], which had been published for more than 20 years in the southern Serbian town of Vranje.

The founder of Vranjske and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association Vukasin Obradovic went on a hunger strike on September 19 to protest the newspaper's closure, which had been subjected to political and financial pressures and also against the “decline in media freedoms in Serbia.”

Roughly one hundred journalists, editors, and activists gathered the same night in a protest known as ‘I stand with Vranjske’, showing their support for Obradovic, after which he ended his strike and joined the group ‘For Media Freedom’ and continued publishing Vranjske online.

However, Obradovic recently announced that he was unable to provide funds for journalists and contributors and that he was forced to shut down the portal vranjske.co.rs as well.

Due to inability to secure minimum conditions for work, and to provide regular payment of salaries for the regular employees and fees for the freelancers, as the owner I was forced to bring a decision to cease functioning of the portal vranjske.co.rs.

Staging creative protests

On September 28, For Media Freedom also staged a website blackout in defense of free speech, using the black screen to symbolize a world without free media.

The group also organized a protest on November 9 at the recent EU and Western Balkans Media Days in Tirana, Albania by standing in black shirts with the sign #EUdoMore, asking the EU to support professional journalism in Serbia and not to ignore a deteriorating situation for Serbian media.

Journalist Tamara Skrozza, a member of For Free Media, told the panel in Tirana that the EU should do more so that “[they] could believe again in their messages that media freedom are a priority in the process of EU integration.” The panel was attended by EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, a member of the European Commission in charge of overseeing the accession and negotiation process of future EU member states such as Serbia.

Serbian press freedoms continue to decline

Serbia has achieved “some level of preparation concerning freedom of expression” according to the latest EU progress report on Serbia from November 2016, but made no progress the previous year.

In the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders for 2016, published in April 2017, Serbia was ranked 66th, a decline of seven positions compared to 2015. The report further specified: “Media freedom has declined ever since Aleksandar Vucic, Slobodan Milosevic’s former information minister, became Prime Minister in May 2014.”

Vucic, who is now the president and still the most powerful person in the country, is not officially against the free press, but he has effectively curtailed press freedoms by choosing several media outlets which serve as government mouthpieces and stage campaigns against opposition, independent journalists, state enemies, so that Vucic presents as a pro-EU reformer.

by Milka Domanovic at November 22, 2017 02:47 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/22/2017: Bringing out the digital elements in board games
For a lot of folks, Thanksgiving means family time. And for some folks, family time means board games. AdWeek reports sales of board games are up 28 percent in the last year. We might think of that industry as being very separate from technology. But it turns out, more digital elements are being incorporated into board games. Marketplace’s Adriene Hill talks with professor Mike Sellers, who directs the Game Design Program at Indiana University, about how board games might look in the future.

by Marketplace at November 22, 2017 11:30 AM

Global Voices
Identity Theft Risk Prompts Estonia to Block the Certificates of 760,000 ID Cards

Screenshot from a promotional video about Estonian ID cards from government's website e-Estonia.com.

On November 4, 2017 the Estonian authorities disabled the certificates of more than 760,000 national electronic ID cards due to a security vulnerability that could have compromised cards issued between October 16, 2014 and October 26, 2017, and possibly even earlier.

More so than most other countries, Estonia relies on digital technology for many basic services including getting prescription medication, voting, bank transfers, and digital signatures. In fact 98% of Estonians have an ID card that they are able to use as a valid travel ID within Europe, access health insurance, and pay taxes. Digital ID cards were introduced in 2002 and have become the cornerstone of the country’s e-services. Estonia has one of the world’s fastest broadband services and has established strong digital literacy, widespread internet connectivity and e-governance.

The certificate software within the blocked ID cards will be replaced with new, more secure one, in a national-wide effort to deal with the risk of privacy breach. These certificates were deactivated after a group of researchers from the Czech Republic identified a security flaw in the cards’ microchips that could have led to major breaches of citizen's personal data. The researchers found that the chips installed in ID cards issued between October 16, 2014 and October 26, 2017 (though possibly as early as 2012) were vulnerable to infiltration of both private and public keys and possible identity theft.

The chips were manufactured by Infineon, a microelectronics company with headquarters in the US and Germany, that provides services including government identification, mobile security and embedded security and trusted computing.

The Estonian government says that no infiltration has yet taken place, and that authorities disabled the affected ID cards as a precautionary measure to ensure no harm to citizen data. To guarantee that e-government continued to function, an estimated 35,000 people who use their ID card for their work, such as government officials and doctors, were updated to a safer version first.

On November 2, 2017 Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said in a statement:

E-riigi toimimine püsib usaldusel ning riik ei saa lubada Eesti ID-kaardi omaniku identiteedi vargust. Praeguse teadmise järgi ei ole e-identideedi vargust aset leidnud, kuid PPA ja RIA ohuhinnang näitab, et see oht on muutunud reaalseks.

The functioning of an e-state is based on trust and the state cannot afford identity theft happening to the owner of an Estonian ID card. As far as we currently know, there has been no instances of e-identity theft, but the threat assessment of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Information System Authority indicates that this threat has become real.

The security threat uncovered by Czech researchers is not limited to Estonian ID cards alone. Presumably, all chipsets produced by Infineon during that time carry the same flaw. Therefore computer systems around the world that use Infineon chipsets are also at risk of infiltration. The vulnerability illuminated the grave security challenges that can come with the digitization of national ID cards and systems.

Social media discussions about this issue included Twitter comments by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former President of the Republic of Estonia (2006-2016) who suggested that the “real story” is about Gemalto, the manufacturer of the cards, which appears to have learned about the vulnerability in February, but had not shared this information with customers. Since 2001 Estonian electronic ID cards have been manufactured by Trub AG and its successor Gemalto AG, Swiss companies that use Infineon technologies.

Former President Ilves claimed the Dutch firm “informed commercial users but not the public sector (paying) clients,” urging journalists to look more in depth into the issue.

Estonia's move to replace the cards’ certificates also attracted attention from information society enthusiasts across the region of Eastern and Central Europe. In a Facebook discussion, a Serbian IT expert living in Estonia explained the end user perspective through comments:

Obavestili su nas pre nekoliko meseci (dok je rizik bio samo teoretski), a pre par nedelja su pustili update sertifikata kroz zvaničnu app (ne mora da se menja ID). Trenutno ume da štuca autorizacija, ali imamo i rezervni način autorizovanja (preko mobilne app) tako da nismo blokirani.

We were notified several months ago (while the risk was only theoretic), and a few weeks ago they released updates of the certificates through an official app (so one doesn't have to change the ID). At the moment the authorization process sometimes has some hiccups, but there's a backup authorisation method via a mobile phone app, so we are not blocked at all.

by Freya Yost at November 22, 2017 02:40 AM

November 21, 2017

Marketplace Tech Report
11/21/2017: Retail tech, from the good to the gimmicky
The National Retail Federation estimates that shoppers will spend around $680 billion this holiday season, up 4 percent from last year.  In an effort to compete with online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores are trying to figure out what tech they can add to enhance the shopping experience, like phone charging kiosks and interactive "magic mirrors." Marketplace’s Adriene Hill spoke with Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru about how tech is changing how we shop in stores.

by Marketplace at November 21, 2017 11:30 AM

Global Voices
How Chinese See the Fall of Their Country's Old Friend Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe
Chinese president Xi Jinping welcomed Zimbabwe President Mugabe's visit in August 2014. Photo from Xinhua.

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe during a visit in August 2014. Photo from Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

As political and military forces in Zimbabwe moved to push longtime President Robert Mugabe from power, Chinese were watching the path of removal of a man many described as a dictator with interest.

Mugabe, 93, has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 30 years since the country’s independence from British colonial rule until today. When the majority of western countries started to sanction Zimbabwe for Mugabe’s land seizure policy and human rights abuses in the early 2000s, China stepped in and became Mugabe’s most important ally.

Throughout the years, relations between Zimbabwe and China have grown closer through loans, construction and investment projects and diplomatic visits. Between 2010 and 2015, China granted Zimbabwe over US$1 billion in loans.

Such financial support has led Zimbabwe’s opposition party to accuse Beijing of aiding Mugabe and stealing billions from the country with illicit trade in the diamond industry. And, in fact, Zimbabwe’s economy has been deteriorating under Mugabe’s regime, and corruption is a serious problem. At the start of November Mugabe sacked his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a move to seemingly position his own wife Grace Mugabe to take over the presidency.

The situation culminated on November 15, 2017 when the military took control of the country. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans poured into streets of the capital Harare to celebrate and chanted anti-Mugabe slogans like “Mugabe must go” and “No to Mugabe dynasty”. ZANU-PF removed Mugabe as leader of the ruling party, pulling Mnangagwa into the spot, and threatened to impeach Mugabe if he didn't step down as president.

So far, however, Mugabe has refused to resign till today.

‘Such an old friend was not reliable’

Quite a number of international media outlets have speculated China’s involvement in the Zimbabwean coup as the military action took place just three days after the commander of the Zimbabwe army, Constantino Chiwenga, returned from a visit to China.

On popular social media platform Weibo, many Chinese netizens have also repeated the theory:

政变的总司令刚从中国回去,一回去就政变,自己想吧

The chief of the coup just returned from China. The coup happened soon after the return, draw your own conclusion.

老朋友已经老了,成天听枕边风吹。枕边风总说中国坏话。前两年老朋友还说他们国家经济不好都是中国的缘故呢。这样的老朋友让人寒心啊。还是石家庄某学院的新学生更让人放心。

The old friend has become very old and easily influenced by his wife. His wife had many negative remarks about China. Just two years ago, this old friend even said the country’s poor economy was thanks to China. Such an old friend was not reliable. The new guys graduated from the Shijiazhuang Army Academy.

Zimbabwe has sent its military officials to China for training since the 1960s and reportedly, former Vice President Mnangagwa was also trained by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

‘An African version of the crackdown on the Gang of Four’

Beyond possible Chinese influence on the coup, many netizens saw parallels between the situation in Zimbabwe and a certain period of China's own history — the arrest of the “Gang of Four” by the military on October 6, 1976, a month after former state leader Mao Zedong’s death.

The gang's leading figure was Mao's last wife, Jiang Qing. The comment below is one of the most popular on Weibo:

这次事件,基本上可以断定是一次非洲版的“粉碎四人帮”事件

This incident is basically an African version of the crackdown on the Gang of Four.

Just as Mao Zedong was considered a founding father of the People's Republic of China, Mugabe was viewed as a great leader who played a central role in liberating Zimbabwe from British colonial rule.

Even given the damage inflicted on the country's economy and the human rights abuses that have happened under Mugabe, he was appointed as the chairman of the 54-state African Union in 2015.

‘The nature of an undemocratic country is like a prison’

Many comments on Twitter said Mugabe's fall demonstrates the power of the people. For example, @twiqiang08 wrote:

People in Zimbabwe tear down huge portrait of Mugabe, their once “great leader, great captain, great teacher and red sun”. Comment: When people wake up, all “greatness” will vanish, the dictator will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

The description of “great leader, great captain, great teacher and red sun” were used to describe Mao Zedong. Recently, Chinese-state affiliated media outlets have started calling President Xi Jinping as “great leader” after the 19th national congress of the CCP and recently used more than 15,000 Chinese words to explain why “Xi is the unrivaled helmsman who will steer China toward this great dream”.

On Weibo, one user was skeptical of the euphemism of “people's power” as dictators are often endorsed by “people” in the first place:

看来全世界皆然,所谓人民,只知道欢呼。穆加贝被他们欢呼上台,视为救世主,把他们都搞成万亿富翁,人均寿命从60多岁降到30多岁,现在终于倒台了,又来欢呼。

The so-called “people” are just cheering squads, people throughout the whole world are the same. When Mugabe came into power, they cheered and took him as savior. Eventually he turned them all into billionaires (because of the devaluation of currency) and their average lifespan was reduced from 60s to 30s. [According to World Bank report, the life expectancy of Zimbabwe had dropped from 62 years in mid-1980s to 40 years old in 2002 and 2003. In recent years the figure is back to 59.] Now that he has fallen, they cheer again.

But Twitter user @huangmeijuan pointed out that the cheering crowds are forced to endorse dictators because there is no room for dissent:

Today, slogans like “Mugabe must go”, “People don’t need a great leader” have occupied Zimbabwe’s streets. Now that the great leader has gone, the country has not fallen into chaos or warlordism. The police responsible for the rally crackdowns of the past have run away, no one has shown up. The nature of a undemocratic country is like a prison and the great leader is just a prison guard.

Chinese political dissidents on Twitter expressed wishful thinking about which authoritarian leader would fall next. @BaiqiaoCh said:

Another notorious dictator has fallen. 93-year-old Mugabe was forced to step down in a coup in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has close relation with the Chinese Communist Party and in 2015 he was even awarded with the Confucian Peace Prize. Which [dictator] would be the next to step down in a coup? North Korea Fatty Kim or West Korea [meaning China] Xi the bun? Am so eager to see this happen.

by Oiwan Lam at November 21, 2017 01:18 AM

November 20, 2017

Global Voices
Glimpses of Hope as Dominica Rebuilds After Hurricane Maria

A screenshot from the time lapse film “Dominica on the Move”, by Yuri A. Jones.

In an effort to track citizen media stories of hope and resilience after the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season that wreaked havoc on several islands along the Caribbean archipelago, Global Voices recently entered into a partnership with Covela Foundation and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) for the Caribbean Voice initiative.

Through this project, we've asked social media users region-wide to hashtag their experiences as they undertake rebuilding efforts. While natural disasters routinely make headlines, there are also stories to be found in the recovery process — inspiring stories of strength, determination and kindness.

One of the narratives that's recently caught our eye comes from the Facebook group, Embrace Dominica. Typically a travel and tourism-based page, it has taken up a bit of an advocacy role for the island's natural environment after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Over the last couple of months, the page has shared videos about the ways in which both the private and public sectors have “been working tirelessly to ensure a sense of normalcy across the island”, including a story about one company that has pledged to rebuild seven primary schools and hundreds of homes.

The page has also applauded the support Dominica has received from its Caribbean neighbours, and intermittently posts photos of “scenes of recovery”, including rescued wildlife.

But certainly one of the most moving uploads on Embrace Dominica is a timelapse film by Yuri A. Jones, which was shot between the months of April (pre-hurricane, when the footage shows off the natural splendour of the island) and September 2017 (post- Hurricane Maria).

The filmmaker talked about the process on his blog:

I wanted to show various forms of nature in Dominica, such as rivers, mountains and beaches […] I also wanted to feature the Milky Way and so I reused the Grand Bay footage and captured a few new sequences from the Lindo Park hardcourt (2:30) and at Freshwater Lake.

But then came the hurricanes — Irma and Maria. Jones continued:

Dominica was spared from Hurricane Irma, but we still felt its effects in the form of high gusts of wind and abnormally rough seas. I was able to capture these effects most succinctly in two sequences.

The first was captured from The Morne, overlooking the capital (0:54). The branches on the right of the frame give you an idea of how strong the wind was at that time. The second was on the Bayfront, near the Fort Young Hotel (1:33). If I didn’t know better, I would say that this was footage of the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean, rather than the usually calm Caribbean Sea.

We weren’t so lucky with Hurricane Maria. The storm hit us as a Category 5 hurricane on Monday 18 September, with winds of 165+ MPH, while traveling at 9 MPH. The slow rate of movement coupled with high winds and torrential rain completely devastated Dominica.

No one was left untouched. Even the most prepared were caught off-guard.

The storm hit at night and I was unable to capture any footage of its destructive process. This is a probably a good thing, as I’m sure that if the storm had hit during the day, many people would have been tempted to venture outside. This would have led to numerous injuries and quite possibly, deaths.

Approximately one third of the footage shown in Dominica On The Move comes from during or after the passage of Hurricane Maria. From 1:56 onward, you will see the drastic difference in the landscape and how it changed after the storm.

He concluded:

This film is definitely one of the crowning achievements of my journey as a photographer. More than 10,000 images and countless hours (in the field and post-production) were finely put together into a 3 minute, professional grade, 4K resolution video.

I’m already planning future timelapse films, to hopefully showcase the return of our lush, green landscapes.

The video does a good job of illustrating the magnificence of Dominica's landscape prior to the storms, making the post-hurricane imagery harder to swallow. Viewers suddenly understand what the country has lost and what its inhabitants have suffered, in a much more tangible way.

The rebuilding efforts continue, with the cleaning up of treasured nature sites. The country's tourism authority is even offering “voluntourism packages” for anyone who would like to assist with the recovery and rebuilding efforts following the passage of Hurricane Maria.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at November 20, 2017 05:42 PM

Japanese Students Practice Taking Cover for Missiles Passing Overhead. But What About a Direct Attack?
japan north korea missile drills

Caption: “North Korea Missiles: drills do not include scenario for damage to nuclear power plants. Screencap from ANN YouTube channel.

After civil defense drills were organized for the first time in local schools, some residents in Japan's Fukui Prefecture are expressing concerns that there are no instructions on what to do in the event of a missile drill on a nuclear power plant other than “take cover”. Fukui Prefecture, a small, rural prefecture on the Japan Sea coast located about 500 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, is home to the largest concentration of nuclear power plants in Japan, if not the entire world.

On November 14, students at 219 public elementary and middle schools throughout the prefecture practiced what to do following a notification over the national J-Alert system about an incoming missile from North Korea. In a drill conducted at one middle school in Fukui City, a representative of the Cabinet Office (the government department under the prime minister of Japan) explains to students what to do in the “unlikely event” (万が一) of a missile attack and subsequent warning. As part of the drill, students quickly leave their class and take cover in a school corridor.

In the drill, the school was notified that a missile was “passing overhead” (通過) but not actually targeting Fukui Prefecture itself. Fukui residents interviewed for the story expressed concern that there were no instructions about what to actually do in the event of a missile attack on Fukui, especially since the prefecture is home to 15 nuclear power plants — the largest concentration of reactors in Japan.

One Twitter user posted a screenshot of a local newspaper story that explained that, according to US estimates, an attack on a nuclear power plant would be expected to result in at least 3,600 deaths and another 6,000 injured.

“Fukui's first missile drills ddo not include scenario for attack on nuclear power plants, even though, at 15 reactors, it's the largest number in Japan.”

This is just awful.

Neither Fukui City, the capital of Fukui Prefecture, nor Tsuruga, a small city of 70,000 that is host to or directly neighbors five nuclear reactors at three sites, have detailed instructions on what to do in the event of a missile attack. Both cities simply instruct that, if indoors during an attack, take shelter in a suitable nearby structure or underground. If indoors, move away from windows.

Both cities then link to the Cabinet Secretariat civil protection portal site, which features information in Japanese and English about what to do in case of a missile attack.

Actions in case of missiles flying to Japan

Excerpt of “Actions in case of missiles flying to Japan“, an English-language poster from the Japanese government explaining what action to take in case of a missile attack.

In 2017, missile alerts and drills are nothing new in Japan after North Korea conducted a series of both missile and nuclear tests earlier in the year. North Korea's most recent nuclear test occurred on September 3, 2017, when North Korea detonated what was believed to be a thermonuclear bomb about 10 times more destructive than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. North Korea has also tested short-range, medium-range and long-range missiles throughout 2017. Some of the tests in 2017 occurred close to or even over Japan.

In response, the Japanese government took advantage of the country's existing earthquake notification system to send out mobile phone text alerts several times during the fall, whenever a ballistic missile was launched from North Korea. As with the recent worries expressed in Fukui, a common complaint throughout the crisis has been that there were no instructions on what Japanese residents should do in the case of a missile launch, much less a direct hit, other than “take cover”.

mihama genpatsu

Three reactors operated at one facility by Kansai Electric Power Company in Mihama, next to the city of Tsuruga, in Fukui Prefecture. The reactor complex is located in the Wakasa region of the Japan Sea coast. Photo by Nevin Thompson.

A missile attack on one of Fukui's numerous nuclear reactors is not regarded as a hypothetical situation either. In September, North Korea threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea. The coastal Wakasa region, where Fukui's 15 reactors are concentrated, neighbors Maizuru, the main Japanese navy base on the Japan Sea Coast.

The region also lies next to Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake and a source of drinking water for nearly 15 million people in Japan's densely populated Kansai region. While most of the reactors in Fukui Prefecture are currently not in operation, all store significant amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel rods. An attack on the reactors could potentially scatter tons of toxic, radioactive debris, polluting the lake.

nuclear reactors near kyoto

Location of nuclear reactors near Lake Biwa and the densely populated Kansai region of Japan. Yellow dots indicate nuclear facilities; the city of Kyoto is in the center of the map, with Kobe and Osaka below. Image widely shared on social media.

In July 2017, the head of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, which helps oversee the nuclear power plants located in Fukui Prefecture, was forced to backtrack after trying to reassure local residents that from North Korea's point of view it would make more sense to target Tokyo with a missile than a reactor in the countryside. He was forced to withdraw his remarks.

Some commentators wish the perceived danger of the nuclear power plants would be eliminated in the first place. As one Twitter user remarked:

Tweet: Before we start drills [for missile attacks] we should get rid of the reactors first.

Article: In Fukui, home of the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in Japan, unease over “no plans” to hold missile drills. There are no estimates of how much the reactors would be damaged, causing locals to voice their concerns.

by Nevin Thompson at November 20, 2017 03:28 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/20/2017: Planning for the 2028 Olympics
Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics in 2028. That gives the city more than a decade to plan the international event. But how do you do that if no one knows what technology will look like in 2028, and how it will affect the way athletes compete, judges judge and viewers at home watch? Marketplace’s Adriene Hill talks with Proday’s Sarah Kunst about everything from body-enhancing technology to LA’s notorious traffic.

by Marketplace at November 20, 2017 11:30 AM

November 19, 2017

Global Voices
As Critiques of UN Peacekeeping Missions Grow, Africa Seeks Peace on its own Terms

Indian military doctors attend to a child in Kiwanja, the Democratic Republic of Congo via The Blue Berets. CC BY-SA 2.0

United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions are ubiquitous on the African continent despite growing critiques of inefficacy. Peacekeepers work in cooperation with African military troops with increasingly broad mandates including civilian protection, counterinsurgency operations, and counterterrorism, among others. UN peacekeeping missions in places like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire have been hailed as successes, yet UN troops’ ground activities on the ground have been heavily questioned.

Since the first mission in 1948, UN peacekeeping missions have evolved drastically but the main goal has always been disarmament demobilization and securing peace on the ground. By May 2015, 80 percent of UN peacekeepers were deployed on the African continent (80,000 troops) to take part in nine UN peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have sent the most troops on these African missions, while the United States, Japan, and France have been the top funders.

UN peacekeepers, also known as ‘Blue Helmets,’ have served as observers as well as soldiers, sometimes engaging in combat without a government's consent. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan mandated reforms aimed at improving UN peacekeeping mission efficiency with broader responsibilities, including the use of force.

Are UN peacekeeping missions in Africa effective? 

A 2014 Human Rights Watch report claimed that UN peacekeepers and Congolese forces failed to prevent an attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that left at least 30 civilians dead. In the Central African Republic (CAR), African Union peacekeepers were implicated in the disappearances of 11 people in 2014. French peacekeepers were also under investigation in CAR for sexual assault. France opened an investigation, but prosecutors later dropped the cases saying there was not enough evidence to charge the soldiers.

Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, reacted to the news:

This is a travesty. If African soldiers had sexually abused little boys in Paris, the investigation wouldn’t be closed until every perpetrator was behind bars.

UN missions at odds with central governments

In a March 2017 speech to the UN, DRC president Joseph Kabila requested a significant reduction of UN peacekeepers on the ground. He argued that their presence was pointless and impeded the Congolese administration's ability to take action. Current UN Secretary-General António Guterres saw Kabila's statement as an opportunity for him to tighten his grip over the DRC and crackdown on public dissent. Yet, according to Pierre Okungo, a Kinshasa politician, a substantial reduction of UN peacekeepers on the ground in the DRC could lead to possible implosion and destruction.

In Kofi Annan's memoir Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, he laments the lack of coordination and awareness between the UN and central governments in conflicts in Somalia (1992) and Rwanda (1994). In the case of Rwanda, the UN did not enact an intervention on the ground until a year after the civil war began, due to a lack of information and coordination on the reality of tensions after the 1994 elections.

African countries develop self-defense strategies

The ‘G5 Sahel,’ comprised of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad was created in 2014 to better coordinate military and development efforts in central Africa. During UN general assemblies, talks initiated by France took place to determine the future of G5 Sahel.  UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated:

The situation in the Sahel challenges us all. The sense of sacrifice [of 3 Chadian peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Mali, killed on 26/10/17]  compels us to urgently find solutions to counter terrorism in Mali, while ensuring the security and safety of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) contingents.

The African Union currently cooperates in South Sudan, where the demise of the central state has made UN missions on the ground extremely complicated.

UN Peacekeeping Operations in Africa Source: the United Nations credits: Danielle Renwick & Julia Ro. Public Domain

Building peace in Africa on its own terms

To leaders such as Joseph Kabila (DRC) or former Chadian president Hissene Habré, the Blue Helmets are seen as “inefficient interferers” only serving westerns interests. African countries working to build their own peace seek the continuance of foreign aid, not a foreign military presence on the ground. This may mitigate wasted resources taken by UN peacekeeping missions in Africa who bring ill-prepared soldiers. Many voices have opined that it is time for the African continent to lead the peace-keeping efforts in the region:

For example, in Somalia, AMISOM (African Union Mission In Somalia) member states provide troops while the UN provides funding, training, logistics, and planning support. Since the establishment of the AU’s Peace and Security Council, the AU has authorized over 64,000 peacekeepers to missions on the continent including fights against the Lord Resistance Army in Central Africa and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Over the last few decades, UN troops on the ground have kept many countries in conflict from falling into total disarray. Yet, myriad conflicts still persist in Africa and the threat of terrorism is at an all-time high. UN peacekeeping missions are crucial to African development and security and UN agencies like the United Nations Human Rights Commision (UNHCR) deploy important funds (US$ 7.7 billion annual fund in 2017) to mitigate civilian crises on the ground.

At the same time, however, Africa continues to seek strategies to secure peace and stability on its own terms.

by Sylvain Keller at November 19, 2017 11:29 AM

November 18, 2017

Global Voices
Musicians Think There's #NoGreaterTime to Advocate for Change in Trinidad & Tobago

The group of creatives behind the musical initiative for change, #NoGreaterTime. Photo courtesy the group, used with permission.

Just about a year ago, soca singer Kees Dieffenthaller, spoken word artist Muhammad Muwakil, designer Anya Ayoung Chee, music producer Keron “Sheriff” Thompson and other Trinidad and Tobago-based creatives came together to create the project, No Greater Time.

The collaborative musical undertaking features over 35 artists, including calypso legends David Rudder, Chris “Tambu” Herbert and Ella Andall, contemporary soca stars like Destra, and the new generation of soca and calypso artistes, such as Voice and Aaron Duncan.

Heavily influenced by the 1986 calypso classic “Now Is De Time,” the Trinbagonian response to “We Are the World”, which raised money for Africa, the #NoGreaterTime music video has already been viewed over 19,000 times on Facebook alone, and close to 15,000 times on YouTube. The underlying message is to “unite people across the country rallying our citizens to collectively create a more peaceful, prosperous and unified Trinbagonian society”.

Some of the artists are now trying to make the project (which thus far, has included the song, a video and a website) more tangible by performing and sharing the message behind the “pore-raising anthem”. The concert is scheduled for November 26, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city.

To learn more about this inspiring project, Global Voices interviewed the music producer, Keron Thompson, better known as Sheriff, to talk about #NoGreaterTime's genesis and mission, as it picks up momentum with the upcoming concert.

Composer Neel Dwala and producer Keron “Sheriff” Thomson recording the track to #NoGreaterTime. Photograph by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

Global Voices (GV): What was the impetus behind the #NoGreaterTime initiative? Kees said all the artists were “feeling like something had changed and something needed to be said” — what was the tipping point? And how do you go from saying something (which the song and video accomplish very well) to doing something?

Sheriff (S): I think I remember the defining moment being the murder of a female Republic Bank Employee. She was missing for a few days and when she was found, the entire country just felt heavy. Muhammed and Anya had started the conversation and Kes had joined in. My inclusion was rather serendipitous. The conversations echoed between them and other creatives, people of that ilk, so it was only natural that we all used our gifts as the best medium to do something. We all felt like we [had] had enough and it was time.

GV: Can you talk about the process of assembling this group of amazing artists to create the song and video?

S: The artists were meticulously chosen. It was difficult because with the wealth of talent we have here, it was hard to be able to include all the artists and musicians we wanted and not miss certain key people. We tried to cover all genres and all generations and get the people we believe who would echo the sentiment of the words we wrote. We still didn't get everyone we set out to get, but the energy of everyone involved seemed to align in the right way.

Soca singer Kees Dieffenthaller (R) recording his parts of the song. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: What were the actual recording sessions (for both the song and the video) like and how long did they take to complete?

S: We were recording the demo for about three months, but the bulk of the song and video were recorded simultaneously over a two-day period at NAPA sometime in April 2017. The remainder of [the] artists recorded at studio express and at my studio for an additional couple of days. Ollie (the video's director, Oliver Milne) and his team were present for all of it.

GV: What outcome do your hope the #NoGreaterTime campaign will achieve?

S: Personally, I never really thought of it. Just getting to the finish line was success in and of itself. I think I just hope it has a snowball effect and many more good things come out of this as a result.

Spoken word artist Muhammad Muwakil, of the group Freetown Collective, pores over the sheet music at the recording session. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: Muhammad Muwakil said it's important for artists to give answers to the problems of their times — what are the answers that this song/video puts forward? And how does it move from conversation to action?

S: There are too many problems in our time to actually list, but as he said we each have our duty to do what we can in whatever capacity we are able to. I think the fact that the question, ‘There's no greater time for…?’ made each of us think about that honestly and our responses echoed our varied views and beliefs.

GV: I assume everyone contributed their time and talent to this project gratis, but is there a charitable aspect to it? Is there some sort of built-in mechanism intended to raise funds for worthwhile causes, and if so, can you give us details?

S: We collectively decided to [let] @TOGETHERWI_ be the arm that helps deal with that. We know that there's only so much we can do and that organization has their ears to the ground in more ways than we collectively could.

GV: How do you think this initiative impacts the socio-political climate in Trinidad and Tobago?

S: At this point I don't know that it will, but I know we all hope that it does in a positive way. I hope [it] brings more initiatives like this to the forefront. A lot of good people in society have great ideas and are willing to give themselves and their time to help make even the smallest change.

GV: Measurability and transparency are important in initiatives such as these. Are there tools in place to measure the effects of this campaign? (e.g.: comparing its success with the 1986 Calypsonians for Africa song “Now Is The Time?”)

S: I, for one, didn't measure it in any way and I can't recall anything being measured apart from taking note of the traction we were getting and how far we were from where we wanted to be. I don't think we made any direct comparisons to anything else or measured the success to that extent. We were all so focused on the task at hand which was getting the project done successfully and efficiently and making sure it made it to as many eyes and ears possible.

Members of the rapso music group, 3 Canal, sing their part of the song, #NoGreaterTime. Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite, used with permission.

GV: What has the social media impact/response been so far? And how do you expect your audience to take the message from a virtual space to a real life space?

S: The response has been great. So many [people] have been a part of the cause and shown so much support. I can't count the amount of people who told me they loved the song and video and gave endless compliments. I, for one, am a bit selfish and think we can can get greater impact or do more, but with a project like this it's important to have longevity rather than great impact for a short period of time.

GV: Can you give us tangible examples of how this song is uniting people, which we understand was one of its key goals?

S: I don't have many examples, but there's just something that resonates in the video that highlights the things that we may not see otherwise. The love. The togetherness. The unity. So many people have said how proud they feel after seeing it and how much it strikes [a] chord with them. The video is the thing that makes people feel. It's the the first thing that makes people want to help, change and do/be better.

GV: “Together we aspire, together we achieve // and oftentimes I wonder is it something we still believe” — Based on these lyrics, do you feel like Trinbagonians have lost their way? What are some concrete ways to fix this crime problem, which has got so out of hand? And how can this project — and the people involved — begin to lobby for implementation? Or does the project just stop with an inspirational message?

S: It isn't so much that we lost our way as much as we need to have more people taking action. Not just talking about change, but being change or being a part of that change. We have a way here of chiming in with opinions and not much action to support it. ‘Together we aspire together we achieve’ is our motto but, given the way things are here sometimes with all the crime and negative stories, it feels like we don't practice what we preach and we all fall short in some way or another. We can do better. All of us.

by Atiba Rogers at November 18, 2017 10:08 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Data for Black Lives: Automating (In)Justice

Automating (In)Justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithmic Age

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is "a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people." This is a liveblog from the Automating (In)Justice panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava – apologizes for any errors or omissions.

Adam Foss starts by talking about how criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue. In Boston we incarcerated a generation of black men, but now we are feeling the impact of this the “smart on crime” approach. Right now all along the continuum people are trying to use data to solve this historical problem of mass incarceration.  There’s good to that, and bad to that.

Panelists:

  • Adam Foss
  • Charmaine Arthur
  • Samuel Sinyangwe
  • Kim Foxx
  • Julia Anfwin

Charmaine Arthur

Arthur is the Director of Community Programs at Freedom House (in Roxbury, Boston). Their founders were at the forefront of the Boston bussing crisis.  They’ve started a school for children of color to fight for equitable education.  They work with high school and college students to create success and opportunities through coaching, college-level opportunities, and other community work and civic engagement.

Data helps them in a number of ways. It helps them do their work better.  It gives them context. It helps them identify who they serve. They measure things like race, sex, grade, graduation, attendance, family base, economics, and more. They use SalesForce for a lot of this. Data allows for some accountability.

This data is a shell.  Until they meet a person they don’t see the life. And they let the students use their own data and be advocates.

Data can also be a false sense of progress and hope. It takes time to work against this. Freedom House survives through funding from foundations, and often they dictate how to do the work.  The corporatization of non-profits is happening – they’re using the same language as Wall Street.  How do you feel about the “return on my investment” in this work?  Absolutely not. We don’t talk that way about our young people.

Samuel Sinyangwe

Sinyangwe’s work began with the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Just afterwards communities that had been experiencing police violence were able to say that. Others attempted to shut this down by saying they didn’t have the data, as if your lived experience needed a study to justify it.

They built the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US. They showed that police killed 323 black people the year Michael Brown was killed.  Then they began to use data as a tool for accountability.

Then they could have a conversation about why the numbers were the way they were.  Why are 1 in 6 homicides in Oklahoma City committed by police? 1 in 3 people killed by strangers in the US are killed by police officers.  Over 1200 people a year for the last five years. How do we make this apparent and accessible to people?  Visualization has been critical to help peopleunderstand what is going on, and move to some kind of action.

They have national data, and also deeper data bout the top 100 departments in the US (through public records requests and other means). In Orlando, FL they met with police leadership and the data showed that they are the second highest for people killed by police. When they presented all this they explain this because Orlando is a heavy tourist place, and there are lots of folks on Orange Ave corridor; clearly this is unque and they can’t be compared.  So Sinyangwe pulled the New Orleans Bourbon St. data, which shut down that conversation.

The people in this room can download the dataset and use it – http://mappingpoliceviolence.com.

Kim Foxx

Foxx is the state’s attorney of Cook Country, Chicago. They release this data to the public in a very accessible way. There is a sense around mass incarceration that things are “anecdotal.” 86% of the people in Cook County jail are black or brown.  94% of people in the juvenile system are black and brown. In the prosecutor’s office we don’t know how this happens, because the systems are black boxes.

For Foxx it was important to have the public know what she was doing, and how she makes decisions. How do you measure if you are better than your predecessor? She ran on the issue of people in jail being stuck there only because they are not able to afford their bail. Sharing information gives them a benchmark.  Foxx insists that “you can’t fix what you can’t measure.” 

Sharing budget, agenda, and more lets the public know. People can run the datasets themselves. They’ve hired a Chief Data Officer for the Prosecutors office, and released the last 6 years of data; precisely because they wanted it to be continuing and accountable.

In 2016 their second highest felony offense (after gun possession), was retail theft (shoplifting). They didn’t know that until they dove into the data.  Illinois’ level of retail theft felony is $300.  Indiana is $750.  Wisconsin is $2500. When you think about the impact of a felony conviction you can ask a question about what we are doing.  At her department, they decided to not charge retail theft as a felony for under $1000 (they can do that at their discretion). The data helped them see that, and led to that decision.  Next year they’ll be able to look at the impact of that on prison and jail populations, and more.

Chicago has an issue of violence, and Foxx has limited resources. If we are about public safety, we must look at on a continuum. Violence is connected to education, arrests in schools, and more. The highest incidence of violence is in places with under-resourced schools, the places where people returning from convictions live, and more. You can’t arrest your way out of violence. The justice system is not just reactive.  We can’t put the wrong people in jail.

Julia Anfwin

Julia was destined for computer science, but took a turn towards journalism.  She covered technology for 15 years. She started writing about criminal justice because she was writing about the data being collected and was wondering about how it was being used.

The highest stakes algorithm judging people is the software used across the country to create “risk assessment scores”. At ProPublica she wrote about this. This is used at pre-trial, parole, and sentencing.  San Francisco, most of New York, and lots of other places use this. As someone math and data literate she looked for studies to justify this.  No one was doing these studies. In fact Eric Holder asked the sentencing commission to have these studied. The only studies were by the companies that created it. New York State purchased this in 2001 and released number in 2012; but they didn’t look at race. She did a FOIA request in Florida to get data, and succeeded in getting 2 years worth of score (2 years).

Anfwin looked at the scores and found for black defendants there were sentences across the board. For white people, almost no-one was getting longer sentences. These algorithms are totally biased. The rigorous statistical analysis after 6 moths of work backed this up.

Computer science community has validated all this work, but the criminal justice community has totally rejected this. It becomes bout a debate about the definition of fairness. Bringing numbers to the table helped this debate happen.

“You gotta bring numbers to the fight”

 

Discussion

Adam shares that in Chicago the shootings aren’t that outside the average, but you just can’t get to a hospital in 45 minutes or less so the homicide numbers are worse. In Boston, they say homicide is way down, while shooting rate is through the roof (because you are at a trauma hospital in 4 minutes).

Samuel shares that in the absence of data you just have assumptions. When you talk about addressing police violence you run into an old script.  It says that anything that restricts how police use force endangers police or community. There is no data to support any of those claims. These are assumptions that are taken as fact. This couldn’t be challenged well because the data wasn’t there.

They’ve tested this with the data we have now, and find they are lies. They looked at use of force policies and how restrictive they were. They tested whether there was an increased risk in departments that are most restrictive. In fact these were the safest for civilians and police officers. You share that finding in the room with the police union and they have nothing to respond with. This can move those conversations forward.

Foxx asks what makes you a good prosecutor? How do you measure the outcomes of what you do? IF you say that you want to keep communities safe, and give someone a harsh punishment, and then see the person over and over, are you successful? Is this harsh sentencing aiding public safety? We have to look at the aggregate impacts on community, otherwise we’ll continue to do the same thing.

We haven’t defined what “tough on crime” or “smart on crime” means.  If you don’t have to own that “tough on crime” means lots of people in prison and decimated neighborhoods, then the data doesn’t matter. The narrative of “personal responsibly” has dominated prosecutorial offices for years. This narrative lets you not care about the impact, and absolves you from the conversation. We cannot afford to do that. In what place can you invest 500 million on crime and have a 55% recidivism rate?

Adam shares that Foxx was elected on a wave of anti-incumbent prosecutorial elections. Next year there are 1000 DA elections across the country. This is an opportunity. Foxx is a leading example of what can happen when we change.

Foxx shares that 80% of elected prosecutors are white men. Less than 1% are women of color. This is important, because we need people in these positions to push back on this. She is from public housing, a single mother-family, all the risk factors that make her high risk from an algorithmic sentencing point of view. These un-connected people don’t know the impact of the policies, and that’s a problem.

Arthur shares that there are lots of egos at the table.  Yes you have to bring numbers, but what happens when you are worn out fighting with the numbers, because those numbers are lives. Understanding “why” matters.  There has to be action with the communication. It takes time, and we have to keep chipping away. But the funders say here, have 3 years to fix it. We just can’t do it. Quality programs are proactive and find youth before they fall off the wall.

Adam asks the panelists – what do you need to do your work better? How is data going to help us?

Arthur shares the story of her kids, who have had different experiences of racism – from shootings and support failures to more. The danger of the story about 18 year old black males is dangerous for individuals. The information Sam has is information Freedom House can use. They can give youth the tools to advocate for themselves. We need to advocate for our own.

Sinyangwe argues that the field of stopping police violence is new. The data is out there for you. The policy information is out there. Help produce knowledge that communities can use for change. Look at civilian review boards – there is no data to tell you which structure is the most useful. Make this stuff accessible.

Foxx wants to amplify this. We don’t validate why things are happening; we don’t understand them. We have to be cognizant of the nuances in spaces, otherwise we’ll just adopt things because other folks have. They need people in the data/analytical space to come to the criminal justice system. Advocacy from outside is good, but we need help inside it too to figure out what questions to ask. Foxx wants people to work with prosecutors to help.

Anfwin has a team of two programmers that she works with. Every industry needs more tech literacy. The most shocking thing of criminal justice scores was the shocking amount of forgiveness applied to white defendants. Her analysis of car insurance rates was the same chart – with higher risk the rates declined in white neighborhoods. They use the word “bias”, but the algorithms have allocated “forgiveness”. This is an important re-framing. Can we build-in forgiveness for more than one group of people.

 

Questions

How do we help advocates use data better?

Anfwin shares that people over-collect data before they have a question.  You need a targeted smart question before you start collecting data.  Otherwise your data is putting data at risk. You have to think about when your data is lost, because it will happen.

Surveillance is a real risk, reminds Sinyangwe. You have to take steps to protect yourself. The framing of your statistics matter.  Especially folks that aren’t data literate; they’re the ones that need to take these numbers and use them.

What do you say to black communities that don’t feel safe and want more policing and surveillance?

There is not a magic answer to that, says Arthur. We used to depend on our neighbors. We’ve lost trust. We used to have a shared understanding of what the village looked like. Community policing works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It can build trust.

Those numbers are real people that live and breathe. We need to really remember that. We need the police. Arthur was going to be a cop, but her mama said that her calling was to work with young people.

Foxx hears this question a lot. She goes into neighborhoods and talks with people in forums. The ACLU folks were talking about stop and frisk. A woman stood up and shared that she was scared to go to the bus stop. She didn’t want an open-air drug market next to the bus stop. Another woman asked about getting rid of the unlicensed snow cone seller. Foxx didn’t understand, because she didn’t live there, that the problem was around the loitering around the snow cone person and the drug sales and more that happened there. People have a deep fear of the police, and a deep fear of the person causing harm.

People want policing that isn’t dangerous to them. This narrative can’t be lost. Law enforcement has to contend with bad tactics and bad policies in the communities that need to trust law the most (because they are suffering the most).

Is the decision whether to keep this data a problem of resources, or a deliberate effort to not collect it?

Sinyangwe says it is a combination. The political system responds to crises. The Department of Justice only opened up an investigation into Fergurson, Baltimore, Chicago when something big happened. Patrick Sharkey found in a recent study that the crime decline in the past few decades was driven by non-profit organizations. For every 10 NGOs working on stuff, there was a 6% drop in violent crime and 10% drop in homicide. The only place resourced to respond when you need safety help is the police department. That was a choice; and they defunded other alternatives. Other studies show that mass incarceration had zero perfect impact on the decline in crime; but that is where all the money goes. Same result for spending on police – very little impact on crime (0% to 5%). We have to shift to community-based responses. Those are the evidence based responses to this problem.

Anfwin attributes this to benign malice (if that exists). Journalism is the last watchdog – people respond. And journalism is in crisis.  All the money is going from them to Google and Facebook. Journalism needs our support to bring attention to this.

 

 

by rahulb at November 18, 2017 08:33 PM

Data for Black Lives: Opening Panel Live Blog

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is "a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people." This is a liveblog from the opening panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio. They apologize for any errors or omissions.

Yeshimabeit opens with a reminder that data and technologies have far too often been weaponized against black communities.

Panelists:

Cathy O'Neil

Data is presented to us as facts.  Cathy found in finance that data had been weaponized (during the last financial crisis). She left for data science, where she say the same thing happening.  Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.

Algorithms are predictions. They use data as input, but you've chosen it and ignored some. Then you train it for success (you have to define success). She uses cooking as an analogy. When she decides what to cook for her kids she uses various criteria. For example, she disregards ramen noodles because she doesn't think they are food (her kids would disagree).  She's in charge, she gets to define success (ie. if the kids ate vegetables).

The point is: whoever's in power gets to choose what is relevant data and what success looks like. You optimize for success over time. The definition of success matters a great deal. Behind the algorithmic math are people who define success, but don't "share in the suffering of failure".

We have had a long history of racist police policy based on broken windows policy. The explicit goal as to arrest people on small charges which would theoretically reduce worse crimes in the future. But what that looks like is concentrated nonviolent crime charges in black neighborhoods. We do not have crime data. I want to make that point again. We do not have crime data. We have arrest data. We have an enormous amount of missing data on white crime data. Blacks get arrested five times as much as whites for marijuana possession whereas usage rates are the same.

We're not predicting crime - we're predicting policing.

A report by Human Rights Data Analysis Group shows that Predictive Policing Reinforces Police bias. This explores the difference between an actual crime versus an arrest as a data point. Predictive policing is perpetuating the cycle of broken windows policing even for places where they say they are not pursuing that strategy any more.

Recidivism risk algorithms is being used to get rid of the bail system. This is not simple. IT is used in sentencing, parole and bail.  People are assessed on their risk of getting arrested , failing to appear for court, etc.  These might have legitimate reasons (getting your kids from school) - the risks are higher for some people.

The questionnaires used for these assessments contain questions that are proxies for race and class. "Any prior convictions", "Do you think the system is rigged against you", "Did your father go to prison", "have you been suspended from school"  - all of these are proxies for asking race. Many of these questions would be unconstitutional in an open court but are used against you in a risk assessment. This creates a pernicious feedback loop of its own device. You get a longer sentence if your risk score is higher.

These risk scores were created to fight human bias. Judges are also racist. But unfortunately the idea of objective, scientific risk scores is not working.


Cathy O'Neil's pernicious feedback loop caused by unjust algorithms.

We need to instill the concept of ethics into data science trainings.  Cathy asked a creator if they used race.  He said no.  She asked if he uses zip code.  He says yes. The data scientists don't feel any responsibility for their use.

She says we should have a Bill of Rights for Data in this country that would explain how these scores work and are being used against us.

Malika Saada Saar

Recently Malika brought leading women's rights defenders to Google to talk about tech's role in gender violence. While talking about tech's impact on womens lives, one advocate said she felt like part of the "resistance" fighting the Empire, but while doing that the Empire was building another Death Star.

In civil society, government and more we have done the work to demand equality.  We might not have succeeded yet, but we know where to go to demand accountability.  Tech is a new circle of power; a new ecosystem of abuse, violence, subordination, and exclusion.  We have to see this, name it, and hold it accountable.

The other side is that we can use this to advance our rights.  BLM started as an online love letter. The moment of naming and shaming violence against women is only happening because of social media. #MeToo is what has allowed for this powerful echo chamber for naming and shaming what has been done to our bodies as women and girls. Social media has done more for representation of black and brown folk than the Motion Picture Association. We have to recognize that we can use this space for purposes of mobilization and the advancement of our rights.

Malika was trained as a human rights lawyer. Being at Google has been an opportunity to do that work. Her training focused on documenting abuses, so the world knows what is happening. At Google she can document in a way she never imagined before.

You have these smartphones. You can use them to bear witness, to document human rights abuses. Whether you are documenting them in Ferguson or Uganda. You take the digital evidence of those abuses and share them on these global platforms. It is absolutely what has changed the conversation around police brutality.

So much of how abuse happens is in the context of isolation and silence. Almost every genocide, every rape, happens in the context of isolation and silence. How do we use these technologies to surmount the silence and isolation? That is the power and promise of these technologies. The proof of it is in what we have seen around police brutality.

Malika saw another manifestation of this with women in Rwanda. They used smartphones to document abuse at the hands of their husbands and then showed the videos to the judges. We can use these technologies for the purposes of taking back power and protecting ourselves.

Google has been thinking about how to use VR to "scale the prison walls". Abuse in prisons can happens because others are behind the walls.  They created an immersive experience of solitary confinement. For four minutes your are in it, and it is narrated by people who have been there.  Now they are doing it for girls behind bars. Using technology in this way to bear witness is powerful… and there is danger. After four minutes we have the privilege to take the headset off and lay it down.

There are ways that we will use these technologies, reimagine them, to advance our rights. There are also ways that we have to make sure that, not only do we take what others have created for our own purposes, but also we are in the rooms to create the products themselves - for our communities, for our rights, for our safety. But it's also about how we name and recognize problems. We must hold this new space accountable - from the same place of insistence on equality and dignity that we have done in every other circle of power and privilege.

Dr. Atyia Martin

This conference has the power to impact how we change the struggle. This is an opportunity for us… so there is hard work in involved. Dr. Martin is going to connect this to the resilience plan for Boston. The strategy has been launched,  and embeds racial equity, social justice, and social cohesion.  We have to ask who benefits and who is harmed from some policy or approach? How can be address this as an opportunity to work on these social justice domains? We have to see the multiple benefits this strategy can bring.

When we talk about racism we don't always have the same framing and starting point. Our definition used in our resilience strategy is a strong academic definition but I want to share another one:

A historically rooted system of dehumanizing power structures and behavior based on ideologies that reinforce the superiority of white people and the inferiority of people of color while harming both. It is embedded in all of us. We are conditioned to adopts the behavior that fueled racism as a continuous process.

Dr. Martin has been working and re-working on this academic definition for seven years. This definition is important to understand the context of the data we work with.   Data is biased. It is human and bias is part of the human condition. We live in a society that constantly presents messages about who people of color are. How do we turn data into information? Data are some pieces that we put together the story that we call information. It starts from the collection, how we collate and synthesize, and then how we leverage that to make decisions that impact millions of people. Not just in terms of policy, but if racism is embedded everywhere then this applies across the board. We often leave this part off -- what is our personal responsibility as individuals?  

We have to work on ourselves if we want to call ourselves social justice warriors.  You can't walk someone else through a process you haven't gone through.

Our definition of racism has created two challenges. On the one hand it says that you are a good person if you point out racism. And you're a bad person if you get that pointed finger and you are a racist. So we miss the complexity. It's disrespectful to the struggle and to the people who are living it everyday.

In our culture both people of color and white people all "drink the same Kool-aid" - people of color are taking in the same media as everyone else. We have to manage the underlying things as well.  In most cases we haven't done the work to think about where that comes from. What does that mean for how I navigate the world?

The world assumes we're happy to talk about racism everyday, because we live it. We don't have the language for that y`et, but data can help us do this.

The other piece is white people who have internalized the other side of it. She wants to contribute some framing around the concept of power which we have been talking about. What does power actually mean?

  • Who gets to make decisions?

  • Who gets to allocate resources?

  • Who gets to establish the norms and standards?

  • Who gets to decide how we paint the picture of what's happening right now?

  • Who is to blame and who are the victors?

  • Who gets to decide the history?

  • Who has the time to engage, to attend meetings? (Time itself is a form of power. People of color are more likely to live in food deserts, more likely to have long commutes.)

Relationships are one of the biggest ways we perpetuate racism and other forms of social injustice. Who we decide to have over for dinner matters. Everything in our society is based on our personal relationships.  How can we leverage data to show this racism, classism, sexism?

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. - Wayne Dryer

Purvi Shah

Purvi comes from the world of law. Law for Black Lives is a sister project of Data for Black Lives.  She deferred going to law school because she got engaged in organizing, but hte organizers said no - we need you to understand the law.

She had a hard time the first year. She thought she was going to law school to learn about justice but what she ended up learning about were the rules and regulations of oppression. Law has always codified injustice and oppression. Purvi's first example of this is Johnsion v. M'Intosh was a case the created the concept of property rights… the case is about a white person taking land from a native person.

The second story was August 9, 2014, when Michael Brown was shot and his body lay in the street in Ferguson. She was a lawyer for Center for Constitutional Rights and was glued to Twitter and television and watching the protests happening. She marched into her office and asked what they were going to do. At that time, their organization was suing the President, the Pope and the NYPD, so we were pretty busy. Her boss said they were busy but why don't you go to Ferguson.

She went there a few days after the killing. In Ferguson she noticed that the media was covering the story as if it was all looters, but she say parents, veterans, and more marching each day as a ritual. Documenting what was happening online, she remembers seeing a family with all orange shirts on. They were in town for the family reunion and while she was about to tweet that they were all teargassed - babies, grandmas, and more. Purvi reminds us that this is the history of how black people are treated when the protest the killing of a family member."There is an indifference to my life" is the attitude this builds.  That's why it is important to assert that "Black Lives Matter".

This was a turning point for her as a lawyer. There was an execution style killing of Mike Brown and then hundreds of people were being arrested. One of the challenges in this situation was that lawyers did not want to stand with the community. We needed hundreds of lawyers and didn't have enough lawyers to assist them. So what they ended up doing is building the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee. They started connecting to lawyers across the country, started small, did daily calls, and shared briefs.

Post-Ferguson, there was the grand jury announcement in 2014. Then there were rallies the day after that event which sparked national protests. They saw a role for lawyers operating within the system that was creating all these problems. Then in July, 2015, they hosted Law for Black Lives. They wanted to have a turning point for the legal community. They had 1000 people that were interested and hosted 2 days of conversation about the role of the law in creating the world in which black lives matter.

They discussed policing, the environment, co-ops, and more. Law for Black Lives has mobilized lawyers from Charlottesville to Charleston, supporting victims and organizing.  They organize lawyers towards solutions as well.  At this point they have 3500 members. Over 20 have worked collaboratively to built this over the last 3 years.

Purvi Shah talks about "Movement Lawyering" and asks what are the ways that lawyers partner with the people most impacted by social problems and take an explicit, non-neutral, values-based position in their work.

Purvi wants to share some lessons from her work for people in the room. She argues that like data, law has the veneer of neutrailty; a false neutrality.

Movement lawyering is about connecting law to social movements (buidling on a long history).  This hasn't always been identified as a clear strategy, with supporting theory and practice.  What would it mean to be a "movement data" person? For them it meant partnering with the people. This is about creating an atmosphere to support people functioning and moving forward (quote from Arthur Kinoy).

"It's not about winning cases, it's about shifting power," says Shah.

Solve the problems people want you to solve. The Vision for Black Lives documents this comprehensively. People have tons of ideas for this community talk about.  Predictive sentencing, homelessness data, food justice - Purvi encourages us to start there.

She says a couple rules is that 1) There should be no rogue agents and 2) There should be no savior complexes. People in this room have a lot of expertise. How do you offer your expertise but in partnership with existing groups?

"Partnership means going at the speed of trust."

 

She calls on this movement to center black leadership – the folks living at the most intersections and the margins. Privilege is complex - this is not about just values and ideas, but also about strategy. People who have the lived experience are the ones most likely to see the solutions.

Emotions >= data. Lawyers, like data people, are very analytical. Both are trained to be neutral.  But emotions are a data point; both for the communities we work in and for ourselves. We need to create space for the trauma we feel, and the secondary trauma of experiencing the communities' trauma.

A Bill of Rights is great but what about a Code of Values? Law for Black Lives has a code of values on their website. They believe in democratizing the law, for example.

We have to: Change ourselves, change our work, shift our institutions and shift our fields.

Questions

What is the main goal for Data for Black Lives over the next few years?

Yeshimabeit: One of the things they are focusing on is building out this network and relationships with the people here and nationally.

Cathy: I joined Occupy in 2011 and that was 6 years ago and we still meet every week. Most people don't know that Occupy still exists but that's not hte point. The people I met then are now working for Senators, integrating themselves into the systems. It's a network that you build and make strong bonds, and then you keep going. It has a certain goal and mission.

Atyia: We need to re-think a lot of things. We need to reframe how we are thinking about the world based on research and information, remember our critical thinking and bias skills. We need to re-intellectualize - we have become so fractured around different interest areas rather than big picture goals. We get stuck on strategies versus outcomes. We need to put a mirror on ourselves on a regular basis. The research shows that if you think you are super smart then the more dangerous you are in terms of your bias. The Northeast region sees a lot of well-meaning folks that haven't done the work on themselves.

Purvi: Center yourself on things that change conditions for people suffering right now.  Work on the problem and the underlying thing.  You have to keep people alive while working on the system.

Malika: How do we make sure that there is a constant dialogue between Google, Facebook, Twitter to what you are doing? Not just issue of access. How do we unlock these spaces for criminal justice defenders for example? The other intersection that has to play out is that there's a divide between rights defenders and tech. What's the intersection between those groups? If they are not talking about predictive policing then they are not doing their work. There's a difference in knowledge and language. A lot of it is generational. Ella Baker would have said - it's the younger folk who know how to bring a movement forward.

Cathy spoke about proxies for race and class. Every place has proxies for certain modes of oppression.  How can we work towards identifying and exposing these proxies in lots of fields?

Cathy: I loved finance and started with Occupy. And I thought the weaponization of math was a finance problem. She was previously deciding who got comparison advertising when they searched for flights on travel sites. Then a venture capitalist came and his vision for the future of ads was when he got to see flights to Aruba and not see ads for University of Phoenix because that "was not for people like me." She was ticked off and then started looking at predatory online ads from trashy, private higher education institutions like U of Phoenix. I felt that I was complicit in a technology that was making people suffer. For the second time after being in finance. I'm creating a system that I personally will not suffer from but others will.

Cathy loves her luxury yarn advertisements, but on the other side it is predatory - payday lenders and for-profit colleges.  It is ruining people's lives and we call it a service.

Malika: Within human rights and civil rights community, we don't know this. It's a form of rights abuse that we don't understand. There's a real need for folks like you and the civil rights communities to be in dialogue to map these things out.

Google was asked by the civil rights community to pull down the payday loans ads.  They mobilized to bring Google to the table and explain it.  They made the decision to take them down.  Right now their is a conversation about bail bonds.  There might be more violations of civil rights.

Atyia: What was just described by Mildred is the idea that policies and practices have disproportionate outcomes for people of color is old history. This is the hisotircal context. Every issue has a historical story for why we see the problems today. Fo

The Social Security Act of 1935 did this.  They wanted to give every citizen access to money.  But the "fine print" didn't allow for agricultural workers and domestic workers ("These are proxies!" chimes in an audience member).  These started off intentionally.  This is not new, it just comes in new forms.

Purvi: The new piece is that our data is being collected. How you interact on social media is being used to identify you. Everyday people have to understand what's happening here. Most of this is happening in non-transparent ways. How can we shift the ethics and values about how this is done.  We can't bring this down from the top levels.

Malika: People of color and women have to be in the room as designers and creators.

Cathy: I agree with all that but I want to add something which is that this is about power but it is also happening in an extremely secretive environment. We have no access to weigh those algorithms, test them, see if they are wrong, see how they influence people. It's not exactly the same thing. It is historically embedded, but the tech has made it possible for people that have power to have even more power.

Atyia: The vehicle is new, but the methodology is ancient. This is important for data scientists, because you don't need to come up with things from scratch.

Malika: The tech companies talk about being justice-driven. Tech has stood up around things like the travel-ban, the bathroom-ban, DACA and more.

Community organizer from Newport News, VA, who works with youth. Working with the black community you work on lots of issues - mental health, economics, environmental justice, and more.  Is there a toolkit to train us and the youth on how to identify what data is important and what we need. The questions we have might not be the data we need to find the trend and disrupt the norm.

Cathy: This is important, and hard to answer. Different fields have different forms of evidence gathering.  "Big data" is mostly online data.  The kids are being surveilled by the big tech companies.  They can go "incognito mode" to protect themselves.  Videos and documentation are important.  The ACLU tool can immediately live stream police interactions.

Purvi: With Law for Black Lives we created chapters. How do you organize yourselves in the local communities and build bridges to people being impacted? How to democratize and build toolkits? There are pieces that are very complex. But how do we take democratization as far as possible? What's the connectivity point in this room to make that toolkit?

by rahulb at November 18, 2017 03:54 PM

November 17, 2017

Global Voices
In Macedonia and Serbia, Right-Wing Politicians Make Their Followers Swoon—Literally

Screenshots from the videos depicting the fainting incidents involving the supporters of Aleksandar Vučić and Nikola Gruevski.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia have several things in common.

Both politicians belong to populist, conservative political parties. In fact, ruling Serbian political party SNS and Macedonia's VMRO-DPMNE are “sister parties” within the “family” of the European People's Party.

Both Vučić and Gruevski have been dogged by corruption allegations and faced mass protest movements against their rule.

And on multiple occasions both have seen attendees to their meticulously stage-managed public appearances faint.

On September 5, the new Macedonian government marked one hundred days in office. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev made the customary speech noting the accomplishments, while Gruevski, the chief of opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, held a counter-press conference blaming the prime minister for various debacles.

It would have had been just business as usual on the Macedonian political scene, if it weren't for an incident at Gruevski's press conference that monopolized the public's attention.

At one point, a youth standing behind him fainted, but Gruevski, seemingly unaware, continued his speech, and none of his subordinates tried to interrupt the speech by helping the young man who fell to the ground.

A clip filmed with a mobile phone off a TV screen quickly spread over social networks; it currently has more than 170,000 views at the moment of writing of this post.

The clip was mainly shared by people who dislike Gruevski, who said it highlighted the lack of empathy within VMRO-DPMNE, which ruled Macedonia from August 2006 to May 2017. Many also recalled other cases in the past when the party had shown little concern for its individual members.

For instance, some recalled the death of Martin Neshkovski, killed by Gruevski's bodyguard while trying to celebrate the election victory in June 2011. Others remembered Sedad Asanovski, who died in a traffic accident while traveling to a party rally in November 2016. After a random car hit him, his party colleagues left his dead body on the road and departed, because their party-chartered bus had to arrive at the rally on time. The family claimed no one from the party contacted them afterward.

Screenshot of Gruevski's Facebook post in which he praises the young man who fainted for disrupting the media coverage of government press conference.

To counter the impact of the incident, Gruevski published a Facebook post with photos that showed he later met with the young man who fainted, identified as Marko, to make sure he was all right. The tone of the post was celebratory, and received hundreds of likes and praising comments:

Марко беше во право дека успеал да го засени пресот на Заев пласиран кај некои провладини медиуми за 100 дена влада каде што не слушнавме ниту еден проект.
На прес конференцијата не приметив, но потоа лично се уверив, вистинскиот борец, младиот Марко е во добра состојба и одлично расположение. Одиме напред заедно во нови победи! #УМС #Силна #Победа

Marko was right that he succeeded in overshadowing Zaev's press conference broadcast bу some pro-government media, on the occasion of 100 days of the government, where we didn't hear about any projects.
At the press conference I didn't notice, but later I personally verified that the true fighter, young Marko, is in good condition and excellent cheer. We go forward together to new victories! #UnionOfYoungForces #Strong #Victory

Soon after, people who saw the face of the young man identified him as a participant in other stunts sanctioned by Gruevski's government while in power. Journalist Borjan Jovanovski said he recognized him as the man who was sent to spit on him in public, accompanied with a camera crew in March 2017. Members of the Student Plenum said they recognized him as one of the men who, accompanied by bodyguards and protected by police, stole ballot boxes during student elections in June 2016.

You remember the kid who fainted behind Gruevski? Here he's riding a bike with Koce [Trajanovski, the incumbent major of Skopje who run for the third term on the VMRO-DPMNE ticket.]

Gruevski's gloating and Marko's alleged previous involvement in high-profile political stunts aroused suspicions about the nature of his fainting.

In Serbia, ‘time to faint!’

Two similar incidents happened in Serbia this year involving a man from the audience fainting during a live interview with Aleksandar Vučić on a friendly TV channel.

The first took place on 31 March, in a talk show on Happy TV. The then prime minister was relating tales about odd jobs he did as a teenager before receiving a state scholarship “without connections” for which he was grateful to the state. When the young man fainted, Vučić got up to help him, and even berated his bodyguards for not jumping in sooner.

It wasn't the first time Vučić was publicly in the role of rescuer. In February 2014, while he was deputy prime minister, he appeared in person on a snowed-in motorway near Feketić in Vojvodina. He was then filmed while carrying an ethnic Albanian child from its bus to an army helicopter. The footage was then rerun by Serbian media, framed as a proof of his humanity and generosity.

The fainting moment created big social media buzz. The young man who fainted gave a short media statement saying that the incident was not a set-up. He added that he didn't suffer further health consequences, and that generally he's not interested in politics.

He's not interested in politics, only in sports. He was accidentally chosen to applaud politics. And then, the healthy athlete fainted!
Only lies and deceptions around [Aleksandar Vučić]

Popular doubts about the authenticity of the incident became part of Serbian protest culture. In the spring, students and others protesting against corruption repeatedly chanted “Time to faint!” and at times hundreds of people would hit the ground.

Time to faint! #Protest2017

The second fainting incident behind Vučić took place on 4 September, a day before the Macedonian incident. This time, the talk show was not interrupted. The interview with a friendly journalist continued:

Serbian social media users continue to comment about the fainting incidents. For instance, after Vučić had an interview in early November, one Twitter user wrote:

How come Vučić gave an interview with nobody fainting?

by Marko Angelov at November 17, 2017 07:21 PM

Another Muslim Man Is Murdered in India's Rajasthan by Cow Vigilantes

Screenshot from YouTube video on Gau Rakshaks by 101 India

With cow vigilantism seemingly on the rise and hardline Hindu nationalism taking root in India, hooligans calling themselves “Gau Rakshaks” (“Cow Protectors”) shot a Muslim man to death who they accused of smuggling cows.

The murder of Umar Mohammad in Rajasthan's Alwar district on November 10 was yet another instance of India's Muslim community facing targeted violence.

Several states in India have regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale or migration of cows. The Indian state of Rajasthan bans both cow slaughter and export or migration of bovine animal for the purpose of slaughter is also prohibited. However, according to reports, Rajasthan, especially the cities Alwar and Bharatpur, are one of the biggest contributors of smuggled cattle to slaughterhouses in different states of India.

Umar Mohammad's wife told the media that she had asked her husband to purchase the cows not to slaughter, but to have a regular supply of milk to feed their eight children and aging parents — which is legal.

Many Hindus consider the cow sacred and a symbol of life, and therefore do not eat it. India also has a significant population of other religions whose adherents generally do eat beef, including Muslims. In the current climate, this fact has increasingly become an excuse for communal attacks against Muslims.

‘Gau Rakshaks are a collective blot on our country, history and memory’

While the culprits have been arrested, as reported by international newswire Reuters, the ground realities remain unchanged. Since 2015, after right-wing Narendra Modi became prime minister, there has been a surge in cow vigilante violence attributed to the rise of Hindu nationalism in the country, ushered in by his election victory.

Ashwaq Masoodi at LiveMint explains:

The term Gau Rakshak has slipped into the country’s lexicon of politics and culture over the past two years, in step with increasing activism by self-styled protectors and vigilante groups.

Many such vigilante groups are springing up across India and there is even a federation of cattle protectors called Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal (Indian Cow Protection Organization).

In a citizen video by online youth-focused content portal 101 India, Doctor VC interviewed some of these Gau Rakshak teams:

After talking with a leader of a Gau Rakshak team, Doctor VC comments in the video:

They held on to their religious belief (about cows) so rigidly, it made me feel uncomfortable even though I am a Hindu.

When he went to the Ramgarh police station to ask about the Gau Rakshaks, the officer in charge said that Gau Rakshaks mainly act as police informants and are not supposed to take the law in their own hands.

‘This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve’

In April 2017, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was beaten to death in Alwar, Rajasthan, the violence caught on mobile phone video. The case prompted Human Rights Watch to warn the Indian government to take action against cow vigilantes:

Indian authorities should promptly investigate and prosecute self-appointed “cow protectors” who have committed brutal attacks against Muslims and Dalits over rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef, Human Rights Watch said today. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the vigilantes, many linked to extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the police, too often, have filed complaints against the assault victims, their relatives, and associates under laws banning cow slaughter.

This, in turn, elicited response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, who said:

Killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ (love of cow) is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve.

But, many Indians believe the prime minister's words didn't go far enough, given what other high-profile figures have said, like the joint general secretary of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad:

If the sentiments of the majority community are respected, there would be no such incidents. Can we demand pork in any Gulf country?

A recent report by Reuters highlighted how in addition to the violence, cows have been stolen from Muslim families and redistributed to Hindu families, thereby further exacerbating the economic divide.

Nearly 86 percent of those killed in cow-related violence were Muslim

Muslims account for 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion population and were granted equal rights under India's constitution after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. While Pakistan became a homeland for Muslims and thereby an Islamic state, India's founding fathers including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the country's democratic and secular credentials that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

But, rising instances of nationalism fueled by abject disregard for rule of law has created a dangerous situation for minorities in India.

According to data from Indiaspend, a data journalism portal in India, nearly 86 percent of those killed in cow-related violence were Muslim and 97 percent attacks have taken place after 2014. Modi won the elections in May 2014.

Data further states that in 13 percent of the cases, police register cases against the victims. News reports suggest police officials have used the same method to highlight cases against Umar Mohammad after his death.

‘Violence has only strengthened violence…while the administration cheers on’

On June 28, 2017 thousands of people from all walks of life turned out in the streets across India to protest against the attacks on Muslims, waving placards containing messages like “Not in My Name” “Stop Cow Terrorism” and “Stand Up to Hindu Terrorism”. The protests followed the death of a 16-year-old boy accused of carrying beef on a train.

On June 28, 2017, thousands assembled in many places across India to declare that the many recent killings of Muslims were NOT IN MY NAME. Claiming to protect cows, Hindu right-wing vigilantes have been lynching Muslims. The card which this young woman is holding says, bluntly, COW PROTECTORS ARE MAN EATERS. Image from Flickr by Mukul Dube. CC BY-SA 2.0

There were also some protests following the murder of Umar Mohammad (mistakenly referred to as “Umar Khan” in the following tweet).

On Scroll.in, Ipsita Chakrabarty argued that the situation was only getting worse:

In Alwar in particular, the political acquiescence that accompanied Pehlu Khan’s lynching has emboldened murderous bullies. For instance, when activist Harsh Mander tried to take his Karwan-e-Mohabbat or Caravan of Love to Behror, the site of the lynching, they received threats from right-wing groups. When they pressed on, protesting crowds gathered at the spot as the local police claimed they were helpless to stop them. Never mind contrition, violence has only strengthened violence in Alwar, while the administration cheers on.

And Aarti Tikoo wrote on Facebook:

This is what the Hindutva radicalism has unleashed in India. And the loony Hindu Right wing will justify such nauseating murders. Shame!

In July, India's Supreme Court suspended a nationwide government ban on sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter. The ban would marginalize Muslims and the scheduled castes and tribes in the country and would harm the beef and leather industry, which employs millions of workers.

As debates around hyper-nationalism, religious zealotry, and bigotry intensify in India, it is the minorities who are facing the brunt of inhumane attacks over cow-protection, time and again.

by Vishal Manve at November 17, 2017 05:49 PM

Mezcal: The Rebirth of a Traditional Mexican Drink

Left: The maguey plant. Right: Bottles of commercial mezcal. Photos by the author and used with permission.

When talking about traditional Mexican drinks, the conversation invariably leads to the recent resurgence of mezcal. Once nearly fading into disuse, mezcal is now the leading drink on menus of all types at a wide variety of Mexican establishments.

In the last decade, drinking mezcal has been trending among Mexicans, but what exactly is mezcal? According to the Official Mexican Standard (Mexico's official rules governing mezcal's characteristics and specifications), mezcal is a distilled, transparent alcoholic beverage obtained from the maguey plant:

100 % de maguey o agave, obtenida por destilación de jugos fermentados con microorganismos espontáneos o cultivados, extraídos de cabezas maduras de magueyes o agaves cocidos (…)

100% maguey or agave, obtained through the distillation of fermented juices with spontaneous or cultivated microorganisms, extracted from mature maguey heads or cooked agaves (…)

Mezcal's historical origin is uncertain although some versions maintain it began in the colonial period, sometime after 1521 following the Spanish conquest and their subsequent introduction to distillation techniques. Others assert that mezcal is a prehispanic brew used by indigenous people for centuries before the conquest.

Mezcal now holds a leading spot among other old-fashioned drinks like pulque and tepache. It's not to be confused with tequila, which comes specifically from the blue agave harvested in its namesake region of Tequila, Jalisco. A recent Huffington Post piece on the rise of mezcal highlights a few other differences:

Alrededor del mundo ambos elixires simbolizan a México, y si durante décadas el tequila ha sido la bebida mexicana por excelencia, ahora el mezcal está viviendo una auténtica revolución. Después de haber sido considerado como una bebida despreciada, ya por fin lo encontramos en los bares mas chic del planeta y el talento de los bartenders le están dando el lugar que se merece.

Around the world, both elixirs symbolize Mexico, and if for decades tequila has been the quintessential Mexican drink, now mezcal is experiencing a genuine revolution. After having been considered an underappreciated drink, we finally find it in the most chic bars on the planet and the talent of the bartenders is giving it the recognition it deserves.

Mezcal's demand is so high in the Mexican capital that mezcalerías (places dedicated solely to its sale and consumption) have popped up. Online sites such as Hello DF or TimeOut regularly recommend some of the most sought-after mezcal shops.

Mezcalería en Matatlán. Foto del usuario de Flickr Eduardo Robles Pacheco. Usado bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Mezcalería (mezcal shop) in Matatlán, Mexico. Photo used with permission from the Flickr account of Eduardo Robles Pacheco under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

On the website Qué Rica Vida, Silvia Lucero published “Mezcal: Mexico's Trendy Beverage,” in which she recommends the best way to taste Mezcal:

Tengo que confesar que, así como me pone un poco nerviosa ver a alguien pedir un tequila y tomarlo en un solo trago, lo mismo me pasa con el mezcal, ya que hay que saber tomarlo y disfrutarlo–sobre todo tratándose de una bebida ancestral.

Existen diferentes tipos; hablando de manera general, sin embargo, está el blanco, el de pechuga y el añejo. En lo personal me gustan aquellos que tienen un sabor como ahumado. Si lo tomas puro, se acompaña con un gajo de naranja y sal de gusano que mezclan con chile en polvo. Suena extraño, es verdad, pero es delicioso.

I must confess that when someone orders tequila and drinks it in one big gulp, I get nervous. Just like tequila, I believe you should know how to drink and enjoy mezcal, especially since it is a handcrafted beverage.

There are several types of the drink. The most common types are white, aged and pechuga, which is distilled with chicken breast. Personally, I like those with a smoky flavor. If you take a shot of this drink, you should take it with an orange slice, worm salt and chili powder. Sounds strange, right? But it’s delicious!

In addition, Lucero left a recommendation for the most sensitive palates:

Si te parece muy fuerte para beberlo solo, puedes tomarlo en cóctel. Por suerte, cada vez es más común encontrar los típicos margarita, bloody mary, paloma o mojito preparados con mezcal. También puedes experimentar en casa creando algunos refrescantes para el verano como, por ejemplo, con jugo de mango y chile en polvo; ¡te quedará delicioso!

If you feel this drink is too strong, you can also have it as a cocktail. Luckily, it is really common now to find margaritas, bloody marys and mojitos prepared with mezcal. You can also experiment at home and create new refreshing drinks for the summer; try mixing the drink with mango juice and chili powder. Delicious!

The Mezcal Nation site expounds on four ways to finish Mezcal:

Tal vez al leer esto vengan a tu mente un complejo término digno de un “mezcalier” “mezcolatra” o “mezcalero”, la realidad es que hablamos de las cuatro formas de darle un acabado al mezcal.

Joven (blanco): es aquel que es envasado después de terminar la segunda destilación, cuando el destilado ya es considerado mezcal.

Reposado: su nombre lo dice, después de terminar el proceso de producción es reposado en barricas de roble blanco de 6 meses a 1 año.

Añejo: como los mejores whiskys, vinos o coñacs, el mezcal también se añeja por cinco años o más en las mismas barricas de roble blanco canadiense o americano.

Abocado: al terminar el proceso, se le agrega un sabor adicional como alguna hierba o fruta (el mezcal de gusano es un ejemplo de abocado).

Perhaps when reading this, a complex term worthy of a “mezcalier,” “mezcolatra” or “mezcalero” comes to mind; the reality is that we talk about the four ways of finishing a mezcal.

Joven (Young, white): The one that is bottled after finishing the second distillation, when the distillate is already considered mezcal.

Reposado (Rested): Its name says it all: after finishing the production process, it rests in white oak barrels for six months to one year.

Añejo (Aged): Like the best whiskeys, wines or cognacs, Mezcal is also aged for five years or more in the same Canadian or American white oak barrels.

Abocado (Finished): At the end of the process, an additional flavor is added such as an herb or fruit (the mezcal worm is an example of finishing).

The Animal Gourmet offers its own meditation on the best way to drink Mezcal:

Antes de beber, reconoce el mezcal que tienes enfrente. Conócelo. Olfatéalo con una fosa nasal y luego con la otra. Después coloca unas gotitas en las palmas de tus manos y frótalas hasta que el mezcal se seque. Coloca rápidamente tus manos alrededor de tu nariz y respira profundamente. Notarás los verdaderos aromas del mezcal (sin el alcohol interfiriendo). ¿Ahumado? Seguro. ¿Tierra mojada?, ¿tabaco? ¿hierbas? ¿durazno? ¿a qué huele? ¿Te gusta? Inténtalo de nuevo. Los expertos incluso pueden identificar qué tipo de agave y de qué región proviene el destilado. No esperamos que logres esto a la primera, pero es una buena forma de empezar a disfrutar tu mezcal.

Before drinking, recognize the mezcal in front of you. Get to know it. Smell it with one nostril and then with the other. Then place some droplets on the palms of your hands and rub them together until the mezcal dries. Quickly place your hands around your nose and breathe deeply. You will notice the true aromas of the mezcal (without the alcohol interfering). Smoky? Definitely. Wet earth? Tobacco? Herbs? Peach? What does it smell like? Do you like it? Do it again. Experts can even identify what kind of agave and which region the liquor comes from. We do not expect you to achieve this immediately, but it is a good way to start enjoying your mezcal.

On Twitter, fans like Carolina Gómez V proudly show off the mezcal they are about to taste:

#Mezcal to enjoy the verses of #sonjarocho

The Oaxaca Digital account shares this photograph of how a mezcal shot may be presented:

A good #Mezcal from #Oaxaca. 

Carolina Espina recalls the popular Mexican saying: “para todo mal, un mezcal” (for everything bad, a mezcal):

And for everything bad…#mezcal..!!

Mezcal is, without a doubt, in vogue. Locals and tourists alike seek to taste a bit of tradition.

by Melissa Wise at November 17, 2017 05:16 PM

Barbie Hijab Comment Highlights Why Some Russian Activists Don’t Support Presidential Hopeful Navalny

Alexey Navalny on campaign trail in Irkutsk. Credit: Evgeny Feldman for navalny.feldman.photo, CC-BY-NC.

As the March 2018 Russian presidential elections draw closer, the field of candidates has grown crowded. Two big names, however, are as of now missing from this storied list: Vladimir Putin and Alexey Navalny.

By all accounts, President Putin is expected to announce his candidacy, which would be his fourth. Opposition leader Navalny is officially prohibited from taking part (which his campaign is actively challenging in courts, without much success), but this hasn’t prevented him from holding rallies across the country.

Navalny has mostly focused his energies to addressing the most pressing concerns in Russia, such as corruption. However, he recently turned his attention to the release of the first hijab-wearing Barbie and fired off some choice words on the matter:

Disgusting. You’ve got to try hard to present the debasement of women as some sort of achievement and social progress. Just disgusting.

Judging by the ratio (a Twitter in-joke whereby one can judge the success, failure, or controversy of a tweet by weighing the amount of replies, retweets, and likes; if there are more replies than retweets or likes, for example, the tweet is considered extremely controversial and a downright failure), Navalny’s take didn’t really rock the boat.

Jumping into the comments gives us a different story. Team Navalny's own social media manager said:

For the backward and snail-paced International Olympic Committee, a woman in a hijab at the Olympic Games is definitely a huge victory. But why debasement? We can’t exclude that she honestly shares those cultural values and chooses to wear a hijab.

Doubling down, Navanly fired back:

A Barbie in a hijab is a promotion of debasement. They teach girls from childhood that they’re inferior and have to wear shawls.

One user did not take kindly to someone speaking for her cultural views:

What nonsense. My hijab is my choice. If you don’t look from a religious point of view and use your brain, this is just a doll wearing the clothes of a different culture.

She later continued:

Congratulations, Alexey! With one tweet you’ve written off all of your potential Muslim voters. You apparently don’t want to become president.

This isn’t hyperbole. The number of Muslims in Russia ranges anywhere from about 5% of the population to 10%, about 20 million people.

One user even noted the places where Navalny has been holding his unsanctioned electoral rallies and drew a connection with his statements:

The Northern Caucasus area is predominantly Muslim.

After his original tweet, Navalny went even further, retweeting another negative opinion on the new Barbie:

Screenshot from Twitter.com/navalny

The first Barbie in a hijab has been released. She can only leave the Barbie house for a couple of hours and only when accompanied by Ken.

Anti-corruption politics with a side of xenophobia?

For those who have been following Navalny’s politics closely, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He has been campaigning for tougher visa regimes with Central Asian countries since at least 2013, when he announced a petition on government website ROI denouncing visa-free travel agreements with seven ex-Soviet states, predominantly Muslim, but including Armenia.

Vladimir Putin opposes these policies and Navalny's petition failed to attract the necessary 100,000 votes for the bill to be presented to the Russian Duma, the lower chamber of parliament.

In 2015, he also wrote an article on his website on the then-burgeoning refugee crisis in Europe, which saw record numbers of arrivals, the majority of whom were fleeing the war-torn countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq:

Сейчас очень уместно всем напомнить, что Европа вынуждена принимать мигрантов-мусульман — они ломятся тысячами через морские и сухопутные границы и остановить их невозможно иначе, как расстрелами. Они их не перевозят, не приглашают, виз им не дают и постоянно пытаются реализовывать программы депортации (впрочем, довольно безуспешно).
В это же время российская государственная политика прямо направлена на привлечение в страну молодых мусульман. У нас даже визового режима со странами Средней Азии нет, несмотря на то, что его поддерживает подавляющее большинство населения.
Когда я на выборах и после заявлял о том, что введение визового режима — первоочередная задача государственной политики, все госпропагандисты верещали «Навальный — фашист» и «геополитические интересы России в том, чтобы сюда могли приезжать все из бывшего СССР». Теперь они же пишут колонки «французы понавезли мусульман, вот и расплачиваются».
А к нам кто едет? Растафарианцы? Синтоисты?
Иммигранты в Россию на 90% — молодные мусульмане-мужчины из сельской местности, то есть та самая среда, из которой вербуются террористы. Источники миграции: Узбекистан и Таджикистан — страны, скажем прямо, границы которых весьма прозрачны и близки к очагам агрессивного исламизма.

It’s now trendy to remind everyone that Europe is obligated [original emphasis] to take in Muslim migrants. They’re swarming in by the thousands across sea and land borders and there’s no way to stop them apart from shooting. They aren’t being ferried across, they aren’t being invited, they aren’t given visas, and the Europeans have been trying to set up deportation programs (admittedly unsuccessfully).
At the same time, Russian state politics are directly aimed at attracting young Muslims into the country. We don’t even have a visa regime with Central Asian countries, even though the overwhelming majority of the population supports having one.
When I announced, during and after the elections, that the introduction of a visa regime is the very first task of politicians, all the government propagandists screeched “Navalny is a fascist” and “it’s in the geopolitical interests of Russia for everyone from the former USSR to come here.” Now they’re writing columns like “the French let in huge quantities of Muslims, and now they’re paying for it”.
But who is coming here? Rastafarians? Shintoists?
90% of immigrants to Russia are young Muslim men from rural areas, the very same place where terrorists are enlisted from. The sources of migration are Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, countries whose borders are, frankly speaking, incredibly fluid and close to the hotbed of aggressive Islamism.

It isn’t only government propagandists who have responded to these sorts of proclamations by branding Navalny a fascist. A smear video, relying on fabricated or misleading quotes from Navalny, recently compared him with Hitler. In a tongue-in-cheek response, an author at Sputnik I pogrom, a well-known Russian ultranationalist site, posted:

Как русский националист я целиком и полностью поддерживаю кампанию «Навальный — фашист-нарцист, Гитлер весь Навальный полностью!» Почему? Потому что у Алексея Анатольевича остаются национальные симпатии (пусть и весьма слабые), и такими атаками власти лишь заставят его начать отмывать национализм от негативного имиджа, доказывая, что в национализме нет ничего плохого.

As a Russian nationalist, I fully support the “Navalny is a fascist-narcissist, Navalny is totally Hitler” campaign. Why? Because Alexey Navalny has some lingering national sympathy (even if it’s really weak) and these sorts of attacks from the authorities only force him to wash the image of nationalism of all negativity, showing that there’s nothing bad in nationalism.

This tenuous affinity perturbs some activists in Russia, who recently drew the same comparisons but came to a markedly different conclusion: Navalny would mean nothing new for Russia, just a new façade of anti-corruption with xenophobia to boot.

Others hit back at this zero-sum argument, pointing out that Navalny’s corruption campaigns have created genuine spaces for expression and opposition around which future Russian political alternatives can coalesce.

This silver lining may not be enough for those who find his other views extremely disagreeable. Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky voiced these concerns after Navalny made a remark on protests in Russia linked to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar:

It’s repulsive to look at racist bullshit. I’d sooner change my citizenship than swap Putin's bad for your worse.

Anti-Putin movements in the West ignore Navalny's immigration rhetoric

Whether or not Navalny can drum up enough support, either among nationalists or liberals, remains to be seen. According to one of the most recent polls, support for Navalny hovers at around 3 percent, compared with 53 percent for Putin, a whopping 20 percent who say they don’t know who they would vote for, and 11 percent who said they would not even vote.

Navalny's corruption policies remain popular, but as always, there’s more nuance when it comes to migration policies. The same polling center has suggested that xenophobia has reached an all-time low in Russia, though there is high support for restricting entry for migrants, around 58% as of July 2017.  When asked whether they feel positively or negatively towards migrants from Central Asia, however, 62% stated that they don’t have any particular feelings on the subject, compared with 27% who experience some sort of negative emotion and 9% with some type of positive feeling.

These shades of gray are quite important when examining contemporary Russian politics, especially for observers coming from the US context, where the desire to make this a black or white scenario is strong.

Some American Twitter users, for example, have taken to promoting Navalny wholeheartedly when they come across alleged Russian trolls as a way of “fighting back” against Vladimir Putin and what they see as his success in helping Donald Trump get to the White House:

To the Russian people: the American people support your struggle for freedom.
#RussianProtests #Resistance #resist #Navalny @navalny

Undoubtedly, some of the #Resistance (a term used sincerely or derisively, depending on the speaker, for an online movement of Americans who have made their goal resisting Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s agenda) would find these aspects of Navalny’s politics troubling. Yet because of oversimplifications, they perhaps aren’t aware.

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is often criticized in the West for its anti-immigrant stances, placing it at odds with the European Union. Navalny’s rhetoric is not worlds apart, and Navalny himself realizes this is a sticking point for many. The UK newspaper the Independent reported in October:

“Every interview with a foreign journalist has a question about nationalism and why I’m not dead,” he says. The first question exaggerates his position, he says; he only wants to introduce visas for Central Asian migrants. (A “joke” video he shot as a young activist, that seemed to compare migrants to cockroaches, does raise questions).

The reigning opinion seems to be that there really isn’t any alternative. The Russian political space simply isn’t as dynamic as many would hope it were. Navalny really has created a movement that exists beyond any one election or issue. The Russian activist movement is still grappling with how to deal with Navalny as a whole, and how to square the circle with his relatively liberal economic policies and his hard-line immigration rhetoric. In Lenin’s (and Chernyshevksy’s) words, what is to be done?

by Christopher Moldes at November 17, 2017 04:13 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Jordanian Cartoonist Goes to Trial For Drawing Jesus

Emad Hajjaj. Photo shared on the cartoonist's Wikipedia page (CC-BY-SA)

A Palestinian-Jordanian cartoonist is facing accusations of insulting religion and instigating religious strife over a cartoon depicting Jesus.

Emad Hajjaj was summoned for questioning by Jordan's public prosecutor on 31 October, after someone submitted a complaint accusing him of “insulting religion”. The cartoon, which was published on Twitter and Facebook, depicts Jesus on a cross denouncing the current Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Patriarch Theophilos III.

“I am Christ the son of Mary and I disown Patriarch Theophilos III and all of those who were involved with him in selling the properties of the noble Greek Orthodox Church to the Israeli occupation,” the cartoon's caption reads.

Hajjaj drew the cartoon in response to reports that the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem sold church property to Israeli settler groups to pay off church debt.

The cartoon was published on 29 October in the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper and on Hajjaj's social media accounts.

selling the property of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem to the occupation is a betrayal to Christianity and Christians

The cartoonist has worked with several local and regional newspapers and magazines that publish his cartoons. His works mainly address politics in the Middle East, including the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Hajjaj is currently free and has not been officially charged yet. However, according to the union representing Jordanian journalists, he will most likely be charged with “instigating religious strife” under the kingdom's Cybercrime Law. The law was amended recently to include a prison sentence ranging from one to five years for anyone convicted of “instigating religious, sectarian, ethnic and regional strife.”

Jordanian laws such as the penal code, the Cybercrime Law and the Press and Publications Law place several restrictions on users expressing themselves online. These restrictions include publishing cartoons or “fake or exaggerated news” about the royal family, publishing content that is deemed insulting to religion or which violates “Islamic values”, and defamation of state officials, government employees and the army.

any accusations of insulting religions should be removed from the penal code; [these are] criminalizing texts that violate the right to free expression and freedom of opinion. I stand in solidarity with Emad Hajjaj

Last year, writer Nahed Hattar was put on trial for sharing on Facebook a cartoon mocking how members of the extremist and violent group ISIS perceive God and paradise. Hattar received numerous threats after posting the cartoon, and was charged with “insulting the divinity”. On 25 September 2016, he was shot dead outside a court in the capital Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial.

Hattar's assassination has raised questions in Jordan on the government's role in creating an environment where those who hold minority views are threatened and silenced. After all, it was the Jordanian government that brought a case against Hattar, and despite the threats against his life, authorities did not give him police protection.

Reflecting on the Jordanian government's policies of countering hate speech while clamping down on freedom of expression, Reem Al Masri, an internet governance expert with the media organization 7iber (pronounced Hiber) wrote:

تماما كما يقف أب ينهر أولاده على سلوكياتهم السلبية دون النظر لدوره في توليدها، تقف الدولة بعيدًا عن خطاب الكراهية.

نسألُ حسب تعريف خطاب الكراهية المُقترح: هل تعدّ الأعمال التي تتخذها الحكومة والتي قد تشيطن بها فئة من فئات المجتمع أو تحرم مجموعات من حرياتهم الأساسية جزءًا من الأعمال المؤججة لخطاب الكراهية؟

(…) كل مرة ترفع الدولة سبابتها متوعدة من يثير ما تسميه «خطاب الكراهية» علينا أن نرجع للمسلّمات والأصول، بأن الخطاب ضد مجموعات دينية أو عرقية أو جنسية يتأجج في بيئة سياسية طاردة للتعدّدية وفي ظل غياب مشاركة مجتمعية في تعريف هذا الخطاب.

Just like the father who rebuffs his children for their negative behaviors without looking at his role in generating them, the state turns away from hate speech.

When we consider the proposed definition of hate speech, we wonder: are actions taken by the government to demonize one of society's communities or deprive certain groups [of people] of their fundamental freedoms part of those acts that instigate hate speech? […] Every time the state threatens those who engage in what it deems “hate speech”, we need to look back at the basic facts: speech against religious, ethnic, and sexual groups is tormented in a political environment that repels pluralism and does not involve society in defining this type of speech.

By questioning Hajjaj, Jordanian authorities have once again shown that they remain unwilliing to build a safe environment where minority views are tolerated.

by Afef Abrougui at November 17, 2017 03:42 PM

Global Voices
Jordanian Cartoonist Goes to Trial For Drawing Jesus

Emad Hajjaj. Photo shared on the cartoonist's Wikipedia page (CC-BY-SA)

A Palestinian-Jordanian cartoonist is facing accusations of insulting religion and instigating religious strife over a cartoon depicting Jesus.

Emad Hajjaj was summoned for questioning by Jordan's public prosecutor on 31 October, after someone submitted a complaint accusing him of “insulting religion”. The cartoon, which was published on Twitter and Facebook, depicts Jesus on a cross denouncing the current Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Patriarch Theophilos III.

“I am Christ the son of Mary and I disown Patriarch Theophilos III and all of those who were involved with him in selling the properties of the noble Greek Orthodox Church to the Israeli occupation,” the cartoon's caption reads.

Hajjaj drew the cartoon in response to reports that the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem sold church property to Israeli settler groups to pay off church debt.

The cartoon was published on 29 October in the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper and on Hajjaj's social media accounts.

selling the property of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem to the occupation is a betrayal to Christianity and Christians

The cartoonist has worked with several local and regional newspapers and magazines that publish his cartoons. His works mainly address politics in the Middle East, including the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Hajjaj is currently free and has not been officially charged yet. However, according to the union representing Jordanian journalists, he will most likely be charged with “instigating religious strife” under the kingdom's Cybercrime Law. The law was amended recently to include a prison sentence ranging from one to five years for anyone convicted of “instigating religious, sectarian, ethnic and regional strife.”

Jordanian laws such as the penal code, the Cybercrime Law and the Press and Publications Law place several restrictions on users expressing themselves online. These restrictions include publishing cartoons or “fake or exaggerated news” about the royal family, publishing content that is deemed insulting to religion or which violates “Islamic values”, and defamation of state officials, government employees and the army.

any accusations of insulting religions should be removed from the penal code; [these are] criminalizing texts that violate the right to free expression and freedom of opinion. I stand in solidarity with Emad Hajjaj

Last year, writer Nahed Hattar was put on trial for sharing on Facebook a cartoon mocking how members of the extremist and violent group ISIS perceive God and paradise. Hattar received numerous threats after posting the cartoon, and was charged with “insulting the divinity”. On 25 September 2016, he was shot dead outside a court in the capital Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial.

Hattar's assassination has raised questions in Jordan on the government's role in creating an environment where those who hold minority views are threatened and silenced. After all, it was the Jordanian government that brought a case against Hattar, and despite the threats against his life, authorities did not give him police protection.

Reflecting on the Jordanian government's policies of countering hate speech while clamping down on freedom of expression, Reem Al Masri, an internet governance expert with the media organization 7iber (pronounced Hiber) wrote:

تماما كما يقف أب ينهر أولاده على سلوكياتهم السلبية دون النظر لدوره في توليدها، تقف الدولة بعيدًا عن خطاب الكراهية.

نسألُ حسب تعريف خطاب الكراهية المُقترح: هل تعدّ الأعمال التي تتخذها الحكومة والتي قد تشيطن بها فئة من فئات المجتمع أو تحرم مجموعات من حرياتهم الأساسية جزءًا من الأعمال المؤججة لخطاب الكراهية؟

(…) كل مرة ترفع الدولة سبابتها متوعدة من يثير ما تسميه «خطاب الكراهية» علينا أن نرجع للمسلّمات والأصول، بأن الخطاب ضد مجموعات دينية أو عرقية أو جنسية يتأجج في بيئة سياسية طاردة للتعدّدية وفي ظل غياب مشاركة مجتمعية في تعريف هذا الخطاب.

Just like the father who rebuffs his children for their negative behaviors without looking at his role in generating them, the state turns away from hate speech.

When we consider the proposed definition of hate speech, we wonder: are actions taken by the government to demonize one of society's communities or deprive certain groups [of people] of their fundamental freedoms part of those acts that instigate hate speech? […] Every time the state threatens those who engage in what it deems “hate speech”, we need to look back at the basic facts: speech against religious, ethnic, and sexual groups is tormented in a political environment that repels pluralism and does not involve society in defining this type of speech.

By questioning Hajjaj, Jordanian authorities have once again shown that they remain unwilliing to build a safe environment where minority views are tolerated.

by Afef Abrougui at November 17, 2017 03:41 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/17/2017: The $10 billion deal that could reshape Uber
Earlier this week, Uber announced progress toward a massive investment from the Japanese conglomeration SoftBank. If the deal goes through, it will be worth about $10 billion. But that’s not all. The deal would require changes to the board that would take power away from former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with analyst and venture capitalist Paul Kedrosky about what the deal means and if it’s likely to move forward.

by Marketplace at November 17, 2017 11:30 AM

Global Voices
Argentine Documentary ‘Education in Motion’ Spotlights Grassroots Learning in Latin America
Detalle del póster del largometraje "La educación en movimiento". Imagen compartida públicamente en <a href="https://www.facebook.com/1627104954176317/photos/fpp.1627104954176317/2069091439977664/?type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Facebook</a>.

Poster details of the film “Education in motion”. Image shared publicly on Facebook.

After “500 days of travel and filming, 300 hours filmed, and six months of editing”comes the debut of the long-awaited feature-length documentary “La education en movimiento” (“Education in Motion”). The film follows the almost three years of hard work and adventures of two Argentine teachers, Malena Noguer and Martín Ferrari, as they journey throughout Latin America to document and analyze popular education projects developed in the heart of “Nuestramérica,” (“Our America”) as they like to call it.

Last year, Global Voices published two articles on Malena and Martín’s Education in Motion initiative, in which they visited educational projects that had emerged “from below” and that break with established norms. The final goal was to stitch all the material into a documentary that would be freely distributed.

In our first article, we presented the project, its protagonists and their incredible journey, as well as the first short clips published out of Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. A second article followed with new information about the trip and more educational projects from Colombia and Ecuador. All of the clips and edited interviews along the way can be seen on their website or YouTube channel, freely accessible for educational, debate, and reflection purposes.

Los viajeros compartieron su recorrido en este <a href="https://www.tripline.net/trip/la_educacion_en_movimiento-70242077617310118462DEDB0AF237B3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">mapa interactivo</a>. Foto compartida públicamente en <a href="https://www.facebook.com/1627104954176317/photos/a.1698871716999640.1073741831.1627104954176317/2002691966617612/?type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Facebook</a>.

The travelers shared their journey on this interactive map. Photo shared publicly on Facebook.

The documentary was previewed on November 10 at the Gaumont Cinema, a well-known cultural reference point, located opposite the Congressional Plaza in Buenos Aires, that today belongs to the National Film Institute and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) of Argentina. The official premiere will be in April 2018 and will be part of the programming of the 11th Argentine Documentary Film Festival.

This short video below gathers images and impressions from the first six months of Malena and Martín’s journey, and it is an opener of what will be the finished documentary:

This ambitious project was made possible thanks to the collaboration of many people, family, friends, colleagues and private donors interested in financing their production, as well as each of the groups and movements that offered their hospitality and support to the travelers. INCAA financed the last stage of editing, which allowed the documentary to be finished early.

The young filmmakers’ excitement is palpable in their posts on Facebook page:

¡¡¡¡Les presentamos a la película!!!!!
Ahí se la ve..sus colores, sus músicas…
Sus protagonistas, sus historias, sus luchas…

500 días de rodaje
300 horas filmadas
45000 km
3 meses de sistematización
6 meses de montaje

Se viene …El pre-estreno!!!

We present to you the film!
Here you can see its colors, its music
Its protagonists, its stories, its struggles

500 days of shooting
300 hours filmed
45,000 kilometers
3 months of systematization
6 months of editing

It's coming… the pre-release!

More clips from the trip: Bolivia and Brazil

During their visit to Bolivia, Malena and Martín had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of El Alto, at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters in the western region of the country. There, they got to know the Wayna Tambo Youth House of Cultures, a space for meetings and communication that aims to:

aportar a la re-creación y consolidación de las identidades juveniles desde una intervención educativa, cultural, comunicativa, con un enfoque que trabaje simultáneamente la vigorización de la singularidad andina-aymara y el fortalecimiento de la diversidad cultural en equidad y justicia

contribute to the recreation and consolidation of youth identities from an educational, cultural, and communicative intervention, with an approach that simultaneously works for the invigoration of the Andean-Aymara singularity and the strengthening of cultural diversity in equity and justice.

The house, which has more than 20 years of history, is part of the Diversity Network, has “an intercultural community radio station” that offers a space for workshops and books, musical bands, and to debate film presentations.

Un aprendizaje colectivo construido desde distintas miradas, desde distintos caminos, desde distintas experiencias, pero que (…) llegan a encontrarse en este espacio y pueden ofrecer una alternativa más en este espacio, una alternativa diferente, una alternativa que apuesta por lo colectivo y lo comunitario, teniendo como ejes transversales lo que es la descolonización y la despatriarcalización, [ya que] que sin eso, estas propuestas no cobran sentido, no tendrían unos pilares muy fuertes de donde agarrarse.

A collective learning built from different perspectives, from different paths, from different experiences, but that […] come to be in this space and can offer another alternative in this space, a different alternative, an alternative that wagers for the collective and the community, having fundamental points such as decolonization and depatriarchalization, [since] without that, these proposals do not make sense, they would not have strong pillars to hold on to.

The journey of more than 1,000 kilometers from the south of Venezuela took them to Ceará, among the northeastern Brazilian states that are experiencing one of the worst droughts of the last century, which has been going on for six years. There, in the Lagoa do Mineiro settlement, is the Francisco Araujo de Barros Field School of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), which is fighting “for an education from the countryside and for the countryside.”

Malena and Martín present the school and the principles of the movement in this clip titled, “Parir-nos en la lucha: Generaciones que hacen escuela” (“To be born into struggle: Generations that build an education”):

La gente sabe muy bien que la escuela está aquí, conquistada por la lucha, está en lucha y vive en lucha. Es una escuela que vive permanentemente en movimiento. Esta escuela tiene una referencia de cambiar en cualquier momento su currículo pedagógico. Va a depender de las necesidades de la clase trabajadora.

The people know very well that the school is here, conquered by the struggle, it is in struggle and lives in struggle. It is a school that lives permanently in the movement. This school has reference to changing its pedagogical curriculum at any time. It will depend on the needs of the working class.

Education in Motion is a self-managed and collectively financed project that used the support of individuals and institutions. You can follow them on Facebook, where they post photos and anecdotes about the people they have met along the way, and on their YouTube channel.

by Omar Ocampo at November 17, 2017 06:03 AM

November 16, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
When Citizens Rejected a Ban on WhatsApp and Telegram, Afghan Officials Backed Down

Image sourced from Max Pixel. CC0 Public Domain

A failed ban of two popular messaging apps has highlighted both the Afghan government's security concerns and the increasingly influential voices of Internet users in the country of 35 million people.

In an official letter, the Ministry of Information and Technology on November 1 ordered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block WhatsApp and Telegram, both of which have gained a strong foothold in the country with the rise of mobile internet connectivity.

By November 2, a major state-owned telecoms company had blocked the apps, and criticism of the decision — mostly manifested on Facebook — rose to a loud crescendo. Within days, the country's two top government officials, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, met and overturned the ban.

Would banning WhatsApp really make Afghans safer?

The Ministry's letter called for an immediate 20-day test ban on the messaging apps without delay, but did not offer a reason for the action. The deputy director of the telecoms regulatory authority, a sub-office of the Ministry of Information and Technology, told the BBC that the ban was due to “security reasons.”

In recent years, Afghanistan's government has been overwhelmed by a militant insurgency that has grown fiercer as key militant groups, notably the Taliban, have splintered into competing factions.

The Taliban reportedly uses both WhatsApp and Telegram for their end-to-end encryption features, but the group is not alone in this choice. In July 2017, Facebook (the parent company of WhatsApp) reported that more than one billion people use the application every day.

There is no available data for the number of WhatsApp users in Afghanistan, but the app is known to be popular in cities where mobile internet is relatively reliable including Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad. The Taliban maintains a presence close to all five cities, while groups that have claimed loyalty to ISIS are active close to Jalalabad.

Among the roughly six million users of social media in the country, the ban was seen as an attempt at censorship rather than a security precaution, as well as an implicit threat to the much more treasured online resource of Facebook.

Habib Khan, a journalist, spoke out against the ban:

‪Say NO to government censorship!
Blocking What's App & Telegram is just the beginning of government's censorship. If it's not resisted, soon the gov't will block Facebook, Twitter and other social media and messaging platforms.
Such bans contradict democratic values and norms and compromise on the citizens’ freedom.

Global Voices contributor Maisam Iltaf questioned the 20-day timeframe:

Parwiz Kawa, who edits the country's largest newspaper Hasht e subh Daily, told the BBC that the country was an open society:

The public reaction – including our own front page – is to resist. We can’t tolerate any ban on social media or any censorship… If the Taliban or others are using these services, find out who is using them, don’t ban them- that’s very sensitive at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

While Mukhtar Wafayee, a renowned investigative journalist, presented Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with an ultimatum:

حک می‌کنیم.
صف حاکمان مستبد باید مشخص باشد. اگر فرمان مسدود ساختن تلگرام و واتساپ پس گرفته نشده و از مسدود شدن صفحات مشخص شده‌ی فیسبوک جلوگیری نشود، نام اشرف غنی نیز در کنار دیکتاتورهای سرکوبگری همچون علی خامنه‌یی، رجب طیب اردوغان، رابرت موگابه، پوتین، کیم جونگ اون، بشار اسد، شاه عربستان و ده‌ها تن دیگر از دشمنان آزادی بیان اضافه می‌شود.

…the order must be immediately withdrawn, otherwise we will put Ghani’s name in line with dictators like Putin, Bashar Assad, Kim Jong Un and many more.

Backing down

Not long after the public outcry, the decision was reversed. The office of President Ashraf Ghani put out a sunny press release, highlighting the constitution's guarantee of free speech.

“The National Unity Government considers itself responsible for [free speech]… The government will not allow any address or institution to impose a ban on the tools related to freedom of speech.”

This isn't the first time the government has betrayed nervousness over tools of mass communication.

In 2014, ISPs appeared to ignore a government request to block Facebook during a prolonged election dispute. The government argued Facebook accounts were adding to political tensions by posting provocative content. Afghan users of the service decried the attempted block.

by Ezzatullah Mehrdad at November 16, 2017 11:04 PM

Creative Commons
U.S. Pushes Closer To Making Government Data Open By Default

The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act (OPEN Government Data Act) has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill’s text was included as Title II in the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (H.R. 4174). If ultimately enacted, the bill would require all government data to be made open by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable. Essentially, the legislation would codify the 2013 Executive Order on Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.

According the bill text:

‘open Government data asset’ means a public data asset that is

(A) machine-readable;
(B) available (or could be made available) in an open format;
(C) not encumbered by restrictions that would impede the use or reuse of such asset; and
(D) based on an underlying open standard that is maintained by a standards organization;

[and]

‘open license’ means a legal guarantee that a data asset is made available

(A) at no cost to the public; and
(B) with no restrictions on copying, publishing, distributing, transmitting, citing, or adapting such asset.

Along with the Data Coalition, Sunlight Foundation, and dozens of other organisations, Creative Commons has been supportive of the push to make government data available under open licenses or in the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. In an earlier letter, we said this legislation will allow the United States to remain a world leader on open data, ensure the value of this public resource will continue to grow as the government unlocks and creates new data sets, and encourage businesses, nonprofits, and others to invest in innovative tools that make use of open government data.

H.R. 4174 was passed by a unanimous voice vote. Now the Senate will consider its counterpart to the House bill, S. 2046.

The post U.S. Pushes Closer To Making Government Data Open By Default appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at November 16, 2017 07:34 PM

Global Voices
“Cementazo” Scandal Tarnishes Costa Rican Presidential Election

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís. Image on Flickr by user UN Women (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Costa Rica is just months away from a presidential election, set to take place on February 4, 2018. However, the road to the polls seems to be growing darker due to a complex political scandal that reveals the presence and extent of corruption in Costa Rica.

The scandal, popularly known as “Cementazo” (roughly translated as “huge cement blow”), is a puzzle with various pieces: an alleged import deal of cement from China, a dubious loan structure, an amendment of the import rules, and a complex network of people that goes all the way up to the Presidency.

By mid-2017, a series of investigations exposed irregularities in what totaled up to a US $31.5 million loan that the state-owned Bank of Costa Rica (Banco de Costa Rica or BCR) made to real estate developer, Juan Carlos Bolaños, and his firm, Sinocem Costa Rica to import cement from China.

The website CRHoy.com published a 20-minute audio of a conversation that allegedly involved Bolaños and then BCR assistant director, Guillermo Quesada:

Esta grabación […] explica un supuesto plan para evadir el pago de un préstamo de $20.000.000 que hizo el Banco de Costa Rica con fondos públicos a un empresario importador de cemento y cuya garantía -en caso de no pagarse- son miles de toneladas de cemento importado desde China. El audio […] según varias fuentes, tendría a algunos políticos, diputados y empresarios diseñando estrategias para lograr una salida “honrosa”. [Como consecuencia] La presidenta del BCR [renunció] al puesto.

This recording […] explains an alleged scheme to avoid paying a $20,000,000 loan that Bank of Costa Rica gave to a cement import businessman with public funds, using as collateral –in case of default– thousands of tons of cement imported from China. The audio […] as per various sources, apparently has some politicians, congressmen and businessmen planning strategies for an “honorable” way out. [As a consequence of all this] The head of BCR [resigned] from her position.

CRHoy also stated that investigations revealed complex influence peddling. It seems there is no information on the whereabouts of the imported cement, which was also the collateral given to BCR for it to approve the loan. Also the “relationship the businessman has with members of all state branches, including congressmen, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Presidential House, as well as members of different political parties”, is under scrutiny.

A very complicated scandal

Bolaños has defended himself by arguing that the loan and the collateral for importing the cement were intended to “put and end to a duopoly” in the local cement industry. According to Bolaños, the Cemex and Holcim duopoly set cement's market prices and manage the industry.

In fact, the duopoly was indeed threatened with the import of cement from China. Import rules which favored the duopoly by targeting foreign cargo — in this case cement — were lifted to allow Sinocem’s Chinese cement shipment to enter Costa Rica while the cement was still en route, on the behest of very high profile political figures. Without the help of these powerful figures, the Chinese cement would not have complied with the tight import restrictions mandated by Costa Rican law, why then did the Bank of Costa Rica sign off on a loan for an import that would otherwise not be allowed to enter the country?

Bolaños insisted he has been a victim of multinational corporations and that his main interest was to provide Costa Rican people with cheaper high-quality cement, putting an end to the duopoly. His claims weren't enough. Juan Carlos Bolaños was arrested in the early hours of November 3 of this year while he was on his way to his estate in Santa Eulalia de Atenas, 40 kilometers from Costa Rican capital, San José.

After Bolaños, other figures that belonged to the state branches fell down too. Besides the resignation of Paola Mora Tumminelli as BCR chair (although not from the board of directors) as well as several managers from the bank, on October 18, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled for a three-month suspension for Courtroom III judge, Celso Gamboa, to investigate his relations with businessman Bolaños. Just days earlier, on October 13, that same legal body had suspended, for three months also, General Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría, to investigate the alleged concealment of evidence during the process.

Meanwhile, on social media…

Outrage is everywhere in the online sphere. Hashtags like #cementazo [huge cement blow], #cementazoCR [huge cement blow in Costa Rica] and #YoNoTengoAmigos [I have no friends], quoting a phrase by President Solís before the Congress Commission that visited him to get his version of events, became trending topics:

About the statements by independent congressman Victor Hugo Morales Zapata on November 6, the Presidential House reaffirms the President of the Republic has no friends and has acted solely on behalf of national interests.
———-
Welcome to the circus! Where the clowns are the owners who believe the public are the animals. 🤷🏻
I have no friends.

A piece of advice to all those involved in “Cementazo”: start being affectionate among you guys, so things get a little less bad for you

New developments happen daily, revealing the involvement of more and more high profile people connected to Bolaños in business relations or friendships:

They are all involved. The first one who should face the consequences instead of hiding is the president. I have no friends. 🙄🤦🏻‍♀️

[President] Luis Guillermo [Solís] today denies [knowing] even the Pope [Francis].

On the discussion of the case and its implications, Medium website author, ¡Seás Tinta!, says they notice an over-simplification of the scandal considering the hashtags. They also argue that these kinds of cases need deeper reflections and less headlines that divert attention from more long-lasting consequences:

Rebajar la discusión, identificar culpables, simplificar un fenómeno complejo, destruir reputaciones, esconder el verdadero tráfico de influencias y promover intereses ajenos a los de las mayorías. ¿Quién va a confiar en un banco público ahora? ¿Quién va a querer pagar más impuestos después de que se ve “regalar plata” a un empresario? ¿Cómo sostener la obra pública a través de un fideicomiso? ¿Cómo vamos a seguir modernizando la economía con duopolios que ya no están en discusión?

Bringing down the discussion, identifying the culprits, simplifying a complex phenomenon, destroying reputations, concealing the real traffic of influences and promoting others’ vested interests. Who will trust a public bank now? Who will want to pay more taxes after what's seen as “giving away money” to one businessman? How to fund public works with a trust? How are we going to go on modernizing the economy with duopolies that are no longer under discussion?

Recently, and during his recovery from surgery, President Solís uploaded a video on Facebook where he repeats he has no friends, and in case someone acted on his behalf, they did it without president's consent:

Screen Shot of President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera's video on Facebook.

Screen Shot of President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera's video on Facebook.

I said the truth and I stick with it.
Uploaded by Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, on Tuesday. November 7, 2017.

Clearly, public opinion about the Costa Rican representatives has been the first victim of this scandal. Results of a survey carried out on October 2017, show an evident change in the public's perception about government corruption. Although unemployment is still a main issue in Costa Rica, corruption jumped to first position on the list of concerns for Costa Ricans.

This post was written with contributions from Costa Rican professionals under the condition of anonymity.

by Gabriela García Calderón at November 16, 2017 03:24 PM

With a Little Help From Humans, the Caribbean's Birds Are Attempting a Post-Hurricane Comeback

One Barbuda Warbler that was spotted after the passage of Hurricane Irma. Photo by Andrea Otto, used with permission.

2017 has been a highly stressful Atlantic hurricane season for the Caribbean. Enduring the storms themselves, however, was only the beginning. The road to recovery is often painfully slow, a process that has been as tough for not only residents, but also the region's hugely diverse bird population.

There are over 500 species of bird in the Caribbean, including over 100 species that live on only one island. The hurricanes destroyed the birds’ habitats, making food more difficult to find.

And many of the local humans who normally would work to protect them, such as conservationists and scientists, lost valuable equipment as well as the roofs off their homes. Numerous challenges remain, especially on the islands of Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico.

Scientists from Guadeloupe conduct a bird count at the colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda. Photo by Eric Delcroix, used with permission.

Nevertheless, the region's largest conservation organisation, Birds Caribbean, rallied quickly. Despite logistical challenges, the non-profit raised funds and began shipping off “bird aid” as soon as possible after Hurricane Irma and, two weeks later, Hurricane Maria had passed. Partners on the islands helped with distribution.

A shipment of bird supplies at the St. Croix airport. Photo by the St. Croix Environmental Association, used with permission.

Soon, one of the most coveted items in bird-loving regional territories turned out to be hummingbird feeders. Les Fruits de Mer, an environmental group in hurricane-battered St. Martin, tweeted:

Later, it shared on its Facebook page:

At lunchtime on Thursday, people were lining up at Sky’s the Limit restaurant in Grand Case. But unlike most days, these people hadn’t just come to eat local barbecue. They came to get bird feeders so they could take care of the birds around their homes. In less than an hour, the Les Fruits de Mer association gave away over 80 bird feeders.

The Wildlife Relief stand in St. Thomas, USVI; photo from the Virgin Island Wildlife Facebook page, used with permission.

In St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands — another island that suffered considerable ecological damage from both hurricanes — a Wildlife Relief stand was doing brisk business over the weekend. They also shared on Facebook:

The story behind the seeds & feeders: our native wildlife across the Caribbean took a severe blow from the storms. Like us, the birds and bats can’t go to the next island to get food and shelter, because those places were devastated too. BirdsCaribbean, a non-profit that works to conserve native Caribbean birds, raised funds and are shipping seeds and feeders to TEN Caribbean islands to help native birds! The logistics have been challenging, to say the least! The St Thomas Bat Team stepped up to volunteer to distribute the relief supplies on St Thomas. Yes, it’s a little late, but the birds really do still need the help! Come get your feeder this weekend!

The St. Croix Environmental Association in the U.S. Virgin Islands was pleased to receive their shipment and advocate for the bat population as well:

The bats at the Barren Spot Bat Tower at the Bat Conservation Site and throughout the territory are struggling from lack of food. Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out most of the fruit growing on our plants and trees! You can help these fruit eating bats by hanging fruits like bananas, papayas, mangoes or whatever you can find. Make sure you hang the fruit out of reach of cats and mongoose so they can't reach the bats! Bats are a key component to forest restoration. #BatWeek

Magnificent Frigatebirds in a devastated mangrove lagoon on the island of Barbuda. Photo by Eric Delcroix, used with permission.

So how are the birds doing? Many Caribbean bird species, with their limited habitats and continuous encroachments from tourism and other developments, are already endangered, including Dominica's endemic Imperial Parrot, the beloved Sisserou, the iconic national bird portrayed on the island's flag. The eye of Hurricane Maria — a Category 5 storm — passed directly over the tiny island, causing immense damage.

Birds Caribbean reported that it sent binoculars, cameras and other tools to help the island's forestry department, which “lost everything in the storm,” search for the Sisserou. Fears of the bird's possible extinction on social media were thankfully premature, as the usually secretive and sparsely scattered parrot was since spotted:

Dominica's Red-Necked Amazon Parrot has also refused to play dead. One blog (subtitled Caribbean Nature in the Age of the Superstorm) reported:

A new video and photo debuted today, courtesy of Machel Sulton of the Dominica Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Divison, featuring a Red-necked amazon being rehabbed post-Maria. The bird looks good!

A St. Lucia-based environmental journalist shared:

Puerto Rico, clipped along its north coast by Hurricane Irma and then traversed from south to north by Maria, continues to fare very poorly, with the birds struggling alongside humans. The El Yunque National Forest was especially badly damaged and remains closed, and the fate of another precious parrot, the critically endangered Puerto Rican Amazon (Iguaca), hangs in the balance.

Puerto Rico has just received 2,000 pounds of desperately needed seed and 800 feeders, and according to Birds Caribbean, eight other islands are picking up their seed and should be getting their feeders this week.

And what of the tiny island of Barbuda? Its human inhabitants, who were evacuated post-Hurricane Irma, are now uncertain about their future, fearing political exploitation and economic opportunism:

Unaware of island politics and humans’ anxieties, the tiny, endemic Barbuda Warbler (listed as “near threatened”) was spotted by local conservationists some two weeks after the storm, prompting much celebration. Since then, a team of scientists from Guadeloupe joined colleagues from the United States, Saint Lucia and Antigua to conduct a survey funded by Birds Caribbean.

34 Bananaquits (also known as Nectar Feeders) crowd round a bird feeder in St. Martin. Photo by Mark Yokoyama, used with permission.

In a series called Irma's Island, the blog of Les Fruits de Mer in St. Martin suggested that the path of recovery depends on humans to make the right decisions:

As nature takes her path to recovery, we have an opportunity to influence the future. We can plant native trees and protect natural spaces or we could destroy them. How we participate in the process is up to us.

In another blog post, Tom White, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department in Puerto Rico, noted that Puerto Rico’s rainforests are already starting to “green up” — and while it's frustrating to see bird populations “get knocked back to such a low level in a day” after decades of trying to build them up, he added, “If you give up, the hurricane wins. And we’re not going to let that happen.”

So, is there a lesson to be learned in the aftermath of the storms? Caribbean birds can be just as resilient as humans. And humans are fighting back, too.

by Emma Lewis at November 16, 2017 01:49 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/16/2017: Smart cities are collecting your data
Smart-city technology is becoming more common, from Singapore to San Jose. The latest city to incorporate this technology into its infrastructure is Toronto. It recently partnered with Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs to redevelop a section of city waterfront. Lots of sensors will collect data on traffic, noise and temperature. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with Toronto Mayor John Tory about the city’s tech investments and how data collection will be regulated.

by Marketplace at November 16, 2017 11:30 AM

Global Voices
The Winner Is: Same Sex Marriage Equality in Australia
Australia votes YES to same sex marriage

Australia votes YES to same sex marriage. Mashup: Screenshot ABC News, GetUp! tweet and LGBT flag map courtesy Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Australian electors have voted strongly in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

A total of 61.6% said ‘yes’ to the postal survey question: ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’.

There was much rejoicing all round, especially on social media:

Author and progressive commentator Jane Caro spoke for many ‘yes’ voters:

Despite the government survey being voluntary, 79.5% of registered voters took part. Voting in Australian elections is normally compulsory with a turnout of approximately 90%.

Changing the Marriage Act is up to parliamentarians and does not require constitutional amendments. After the Senate rejected a bill to hold a compulsory plebiscite, the government decided to use administrative measures to conduct a voluntary, non-binding postal survey. The budget was $AU 122 million (about 95 million US dollars).

However, most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists opposed this process as unnecessary, costly and promoting homophobia. Liam Esler posted some reasons for his anger on Twitter in August:

Australia is a secular nation, where the most common religion is none. We are not in the year 1900. Marriage is a legal vehicle, not a religious one.

For those who say religion is a voice that should be heard, religious leaders and people in Australia have had their say many, many times. Despite this, a clear majority of Australians, based on polling data, support marriage equality. Polling is far more accurate and fair than any postal vote (which favours those over the age of 50, coincidentally the demographic most likely to vote against marriage equality).

Civil rights are not something that should be voted on by the public. They're civil rights. We are one of the last progressive countries to legalise marriage equality, despite the rhetoric that we are one of the most progressive countries in the world.

I've been with my partner for over ten years. Frankly, I'm tired of having my legal and civil rights debated by people who tell me my sexuality is a choice and that I'm going to hell for something I can't control.

For the next three weeks all I'm going to see every day is people telling me how disgusting I am, how unnatural my relationship with my partner is, how my identity is THEIR business to preside in judgement over. The suicide rate for LGBTQI+ people will rise, as it has every time these issues come up. It causes real damage.

I am angry with my government for denying my civil rights, and then deciding to treat them as a political football. I'm angry with my government for demeaning me and the LGBTQI+ community by putting our civil rights to a public vote. I'm angry with my government for not dealing with this issue quickly and efficiently so we can move to other important issues that face our country — trans rights, homelessness, basic communications infrastructure.

I'm angry that it's 2017, and this is where we are.

In particular, it was regarded as harmful to members of their community, especially their mental health. Anti-vilification legislation was passed to try to lessen homophobic hate speech during the campaign.

Mental health was a recurring issue:

A Melbourne suburban health service expressed a note of relief afterwards:

The plebiscite had been the policy of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a conservative and Catholic, before he was deposed by fellow Liberal Party member of parliament Malcolm Turnbull in 2015. Despite his open support for same-sex marriage, Turnbull continued with the idea as a way of placating the right-wing members of his coalition government. It was widely seen as a stalling tactic of the Christian conservatives. The Labor party opposition and the Greens supported a free vote in parliament.

Abbott was a major figure in the ‘no’ case. After the result, many remembered his role:

David Marr, a veteran journalist and longtime critic of Abbott, has ignited lots of Twitter joy:

So has Penny Wong, Labor leader in the Senate, who came out in 2002:

All that remains is for federal parliament to pass legislation, which is almost a certainty. The only wrangling may involve conservative proposals to roll back anti-discrimination laws over religious and conscientious objections. The new law is expected to be passed by parliament before the end of the year.

Naturally, iconic actor and activist Magda Szubanski was jubilant:

Her role in the campaign will be long remembered. In 2012 Magda came out on national TV with the intention to “supercharge the case for marriage equality”. It had immediate impact:

After their online breakdown during the 2016 National Census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has redeemed itself somewhat by spending only $AU 100 million (76 million US dollars), well under budget.

Wikipedia has a detailed background in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey article.

Amnesty International Australia - Yes to marriage equality

Yes to marriage equality. Image courtesy Amnesty International Australia

by Kevin Rennie at November 16, 2017 09:35 AM

Many Taiwanese Say Taiwan Representation at China’s National Congress Was Simply Beijing Propaganda

Taiwan-born delegate of 19th CCP Congress, Lu Li'an. Chinese state-owned Xinhua photo.

Mainland China and Taiwan have a rocky relationship. Taiwan is a de facto political entity that has operated independently from mainland China since 1949, when the Kuomintang forces were defeated by the Communists in the civil war and retreated to Taiwan. Beijing has never recognized Taiwan's independent status and vows to one day “reunite” China and reclaim the territory.

So at first glance, it might seem unusual that Beijing arranges for Taiwan representatives to attend the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) every five years.

However, the presence of Taiwan delegates at the event is intended as a political demonstration of Beijing's “one China” principle. In the past, these so-called Taiwan representatives were born in mainland China.

In a break with tradition, the chosen Taiwan delegate at the 19th National Congress held in October 2017, Lu Li'an, was actually born and educated in Taiwan — before she went to China to work as a professor.

Nevertheless, many Taiwanese saw her participation as inane, given that Taiwan is not ruled by China, and a political move meant to pressure Taiwan into accepting Beijing's understanding of the “one China” principle and suppressing the pro-independence movements in Taiwan.

Since Taiwan has been colonized by different countries throughout its history, Taiwanese defectors are not unheard of. Lu is not the first person (and will not be the last one) leveraged like this. Yifu Lin, for example, who served as the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank from 2008 to 2012, swam to mainland China in 1979 when he was a military officer in Taiwan.

While Lu's presence at the CCP's National Congress was largely considered a joke in Taiwan, it did touch on the the serious issue of nationality for Taiwanese working in China. Taiwanese law prohibits  Taiwanese from establishing a residence or holding a Chinese passport, or taking positions in the CCP, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or the Chinese civil service. Given that Lu holds a Chinese passport and became a delegate at the CCP's National Congress, the Taiwan government decided to revoke her citizenship.

At the same time, Taiwan's National Security Bureau also announced that they will examine the status of another 19 Taiwanese who have taken positions in the CCP or the People's Liberation Army.

‘If you upset Taiwanese before you join the [CCP], what use are you'?

To further fire up the discussions in Taiwan, two Taiwanese graduate students from Beijing University publicly declared that they wanted to join the CCP not long after the National Congress.

One of them did so in a letter published on Guancha, an online news and comments aggregator. In it, he claimed that he wants to join the CCP because speech freedom is limited, thought is monopolized, and democracy is controlled by a few people in Taiwan.

The student's letter was widely condemned in Taiwan, given that Taiwan is ranked 45 and China is ranked 176 in 2017 World Press Freedom Index and Taiwanese voted to choose their president and legislators directly.

Given that Beijing's goal is to eventually regain control over Taiwan, Joyce Yen, the founder of publishing house Ars Longa Press, explained on Facebook that these two students won't benefit the CCP like Lu does:

請注意,她不是自己申請加入,是上海統戰部長沙海林介紹她加入的。
像她這種刻意挑出來做樣板的,模樣好不好,講話得不得體,都非常重要。[…]
這兩天嚷嚷要入黨的那兩位台生,別說他們資歷不可能讓共產黨看上眼,光看相貌還有談吐,就差太多了吧。你以為你努力嫌台灣,講中共好話,中共就會看上你 ?
錯 ! […]你還沒入黨就得罪台灣人,你對中共能有什麼統戰價值 ?

Please notice that [Lu Li'an] did not apply to be a delegate. It is Sha Hailin, the director of the United Front Work Department in Shanghai, who introduced her for this position.
To be chosen as an example for this position, her outlook and communication skills are seriously evaluated.
Regarding those two Taiwanese students who claimed to join the Chinese Communist Party, aside from their background, their outlook and communication skills are too far below the standard. Do they think that the Communist Party would like you only because you say good things about it?
Wrong answer! […] If you upset Taiwanese before you join the Chinese Communist Party, what use are you to their United Front?

The United Front Work Department is one of five departments directly under the CCP's Central Committee which orchestrates soft power policies at home and abroad. It has a bureau that works on the “one country, two systems” political relationship between China and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, and recruits the pro-China Taiwanese.

Yi-Luo People, a mainland Chinese exchange student in Taiwan, argued on Facebook that the Taiwan-born Beijing University students were motivated by material interest to denounce Taiwan:

賣台,實際上賣的是臺獨,臺獨運動越來越好,中國政府的統戰經費也就越來越高。[…]
『顯然,即使我足夠無恥,作為河南人的我並不能靠出賣河南從黨國那裏得到如此巨大的利益。同樣任何一個北京人,上海人,四川人或廣東人也不能靠出賣他們的家鄉獲取利益。而台灣人與我們最大的區別是無論中國政府如何宣稱台灣是中國的一部分,台灣仍然是實質獨立的國家,擁有自己的政府和軍隊,與歐美列強的外交關係也不受中國控制。』

When they say they are selling Taiwan, it is actually Taiwan’s independence movement on sale. When the pro-independence movement in Taiwan becomes stronger, Beijing will pay more and more to build up a united front in Taiwan.

[Quote from the writer's letter to local media outlet] “As a Henan-born Chinese, it is obvious that I cannot get what they get from the Chinese Communist Party even if I shamelessly sell out my homeland. It is the same for anyone born in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, or Guangdong. What Taiwanese differ from us is that Taiwan is a de facto independent country and has its own government, military, and diplomatic interactions with those Euro-American countries no matter how Beijing claims it to be part of China.’

‘I love Taiwan, and I love China as my home country, too.’

Putting border politics aside, the controversy surrounding Lu has put many Taiwanese in a difficult situation. While neither Taiwan nor China allows dual citizenship, quite a number of Taiwanese working in mainland China or couples married across the Taiwan Strait have attained citizenship in China. If they are forced to choose between the two, they must either give up their work in mainland China or conform to Chinese patriotic sentiment, which expects a person to love the country more than their homeland.

Even CCP delegate Lu Li'an faced criticism from mainland Chinese patriots when she told a Taiwanese reporter during the CCP Congress that “I love Taiwan, and I love China as my home country, too.” Her answer was viewed by some mainland Chinese as “politically incorrect”. A Weibo user called “Lazy-fish-play-in-Weibo” explained the logic of Lu's critics:

持这样观点的人认为,卢丽安“爱台湾,也爱大陆”,这话他感觉不顺耳,“也”,就是第二,就没有把大陆摆到第一的位置,其次,是把台湾从大陆分裂出去了[…]该作者甚至拿出来范本,说卢丽安应该说,我爱中国,台湾是中国的一部分,或者只是一个省,我也爱台湾,因为她是中国的领土所以我也爱台湾

People who [criticized Lu's answer], Lu's response “I love Taiwan, and I love China too” does not sound right. They don't like the word “too” because they interpreted “too” as the second place. Which means she had not put China in the first place. Secondly, she seems to separate Taiwan from China. […] This author even prepared a model answer for her. S/he suggested Lu say, “I love China, and I love Taiwan as part (or a province) of China, [or] I also love Taiwan because it belongs to China.”

After Tsai Ing-Wen, who is the leader of Taiwan's pro-independence party, won the presidential election in 2016, Beijing cut off diplomatic dialogue with the Taiwanese government and pressured other countries to end their relations. On the other hand, China's United Front Work Department has tried very hard to win support from elites in Taiwan. Recently, China's Fujian Province claimed to open 1,000 positions in universities for Taiwanese academics to apply. To apply or not to apply for the positions — the choice will be both personal and political.

by I-fan Lin at November 16, 2017 09:19 AM

November 15, 2017

Creative Commons
Trade negotiators: follow these rules to protect creativity, access to knowledge, users’ rights

Today over 70 international copyright experts released the Washington Principles on Copyright Balance in Trade Agreements. The document, endorsed by Creative Commons, urges trade negotiators “to support policies like fair use, safe harbor provisions, and other exceptions and limitations that permit and encourage access to knowledge, flourishing creativity, and innovation.”

The principles were collaboratively drafted at a meeting in Washington, D.C. last month, with input from a wide range of legal academics and public interest organisations from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The principles are released to coincide with the fifth round of talks of the renegotiation of NAFTA, which takes place this week in Mexico City.

Signers lay out the following copyright principles to ensure consumers’ digital rights:

  • Protect and promote copyright balance, including fair use
  • Provide technology-enabling exceptions, such as for search engines and text- and data-mining
  • Require safe harbor provisions to protect online platforms from users’ infringement
  • Ensure legitimate exceptions for anti-circumvention, such as documentary filmmaking, cybersecurity research, and allowing assistive reading technologies for the blind
  • Adhere to existing multilateral commitments on copyright term
  • Guarantee proportionality and due process in copyright enforcement

In the lead up to the renegotiation of NAFTA, we urged negotiators not to expand the copyright provisions to create new (and likely more onerous) rules than those that already exist in the agreement. We said that if the copyright provisions must be reconsidered, a negotiating objective should at a minimum be to advocate for stronger protections for copyright limitations and exceptions; user rights should be granted a mandatory and enforceable standing alongside the rights of authors.

But no one (or more accurately, no one from any public interest or consumer rights organisation) knows what’s in the agreement. NAFTA, like TPP and other trade agreements before it, is being negotiated completely in the dark.

It’s safe to assume that copyright and other intellectual property rights will continue to be included in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, so it’s imperative that the negotiations be radically reformed to make the proceedings transparent, inclusive and accountable. We believe it is unacceptable that binding rules on intellectual property, access to medicines, and a variety of other trade-related sectors will be reworked within a process that is inaccessible and often hostile to input from members of the public.

The post Trade negotiators: follow these rules to protect creativity, access to knowledge, users’ rights appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at November 15, 2017 09:05 PM

Global Voices
Women Die in Childbirth in Rural India, Where Hospitals Lack Doctors

A rural medical facility remains shut due to lack of doctors. Screenshot via a VideoVolunteer report.

This post was written by Madhura Chakraborty and originally appeared on Video Volunteers, an award-winning international community media organization based in India. An edited version is published below as part of a partnership with Global Voices.

In many rural areas of India, many women suffer during childbirth or even die due to a lack of medical personnel or services.

India has succeeded in recent years in reducing the high maternal mortality rate (MMR). Still, about five women die every hour in India from complications developed during childbirth.

The main reasons for maternal mortality are unattended births (with no medical professionals), poor health infrastructure, scarcity of specialists and emergency obstetric services, and most importantly, shortage of doctors in rural areas. According to a study by the Lancet, a UK medical journal:

As of March 2015, 8 percent of India’s 25,300 primary health centers had no doctor. More than 80 percent of community health centers, where specialists practice, had no surgeons; 76 percent had no obstetricians and gynecologists, and 82 percent had no pediatricians.

One of the reasons for this is that most doctors choose to work in cities, rather than move to rural areas. Video Volunteers’ community correspondent from West Bengal Jahanara Bibi reports:

Basanti Roy is an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA)in Badalpur village of South Dinajpur District in the Indian state of West Bengal. ASHAs are community health workers, organized by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who play a pivotal role in ensuring positive maternal health outcomes. But Basanti could not save her own relative:

She was my nephew’s wife. I called the ambulance before her labor pain started but it arrived late. First I took her to the hospital at Rashidpur. There was a delay. Then we took her to the hospital in Kaldigi where they were able to perform a cesarean section on her. After the operations, she started having convulsions. We shifted her to a bigger hospital in the neighboring district of Malda where she passed away.

Government health facilities in West Bengal have repeatedly come under the scanner. A 2014 study found that not only is there a shortage of doctors in the hospitals, but the facilities were also underperforming and inefficient.

The situation in Badalpur is illustrative of this scenario. The primary health center (PHC) there serves a population of 50,000 when government rules mandate that there should be one PHC per 20,000 people. Further, the PHC is operational only between 9 am and 2 pm. Ailing patients have to travel up to 20 kilometers to the next government health facility.

Video Volunteers community correspondent Jahanara Bibi’s report reveals that pregnant women fare the worst due to the prevailing situation. Poor connectivity and bad roads further delay ambulances and women in labor end up giving birth at home or on their way to the hospital. Lakshmi Barman’s daughter-in-law gave birth at home. Lakshmi Barman says:

Ambulances are always late. We kept calling but it arrived an hour later. My daughter-in-law had already given birth. We took the mother and child to the hospital and they stayed there for three days. We had to spend quite a lot of money, about 5,000 Indian Rupees (US$76). If we didn’t have to spend so much we could have cared for her nutrition better.

The government’s Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) program claims to provide free maternal health and delivery services in addition to a cash incentive of 1,400 Indian Rupees (US$21) to women in rural India who choose to give birth at government health facilities. But in areas like Badalpur where basic facilities are not available, poor families end up spending a large chunk of their income on out-of-pocket expenditures.

According to another report by community correspondent Shambhulal Khatik, government health facilities are ill-equipped to deal with complicated cases of childbirth and are plagued with a shortage of qualified staff. In the vacuum created by the absence of such health facilities, unscrupulous private clinics have started charging exorbitant fees to poor people.

Shambhulal reports that Pushpa Bai, a mother of five children living in a rural area in Rajasthan, died during the birth of a stillborn child due to systemic lapses and negligence in rural healthcare infrastructure.

When Pushpa Bai felt labor pain, her husband Shantilal Lohar took her to the nearest district hospital in an ambulance. There were no doctors in the hospital. Nurses examined her and told her she had two more days to go before her delivery and once again she was sent home.

The very next day she started experiencing excruciating pain. Shantilal hired a car and drove Pushpa to the nearest private clinic, five kilometers away, not choosing to trust the government health facilities. The doctor examined her and started the treatment assuring that everything was fine, the baby was fine. Three hours later their stillborn child was delivered. Pushpa started bleeding in the process and was referred to a district hospital with better facilities and doctors. She eventually died due to blood loss as the final private hospital she was admitted in did not have enough blood in their bank to make up for the continuous blood loss.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reveals that health expenditure in a low-income household is often the cause of indebtedness and impoverishment, with hospitalization costing up to 20 times the monthly income in the poorest households.

The government health institutions lack doctors and reports point to poor working conditions or inadequate professional incentives as the reason for not many doctors wanting to work in rural areas.

What is even more frustrating in the case of Badalpur is that a new hospital, with facilities like inpatient department, doctors’ living quarters and other facilities, was constructed in 2014. But it lies vacant with its fully air-conditioned wards and state-of-the-art equipment because doctors are not willing to get posted in this remote village. While the government of West Bengal has enacted stringent laws to combat medical negligence in private hospitals and nursing homes, more clearly needs to be done to improve services provided through the state health care facilities.

Video Volunteers runs India's only reporting network that's focused exclusively on providing broad coverage from the poorest, most media-dark districts in India.

by VideoVolunteers at November 15, 2017 06:01 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
#StopTheCrackdownVN: Global Groups Call for Human Rights Protection in Vietnam

Human rights groups are calling for the release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

Global civil society organizations (CSOs) have launched a series  initiatives to highlight Vietnam’s alarming human rights situation.

Online database of prisoners of conscience

The NOW! campaign, founded by 14 human rights organizations, calls for the immediate release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. The campaign has established a comprehensive online database containing information about Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience.

According to the database, Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience included bloggers, journalists, environmentalists, students, farmers, and workers who were arrested for their peaceful activism.

Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest.

Most of them were charged with violating article 79 of the criminal law, “plotting to overthrow the government”, and article 88, “conducting propaganda against the state”.

But Civil Rights Defenders, one of the members of the NOW! campaign, said that the number of prisoners of conscience could be higher:

The government’s near total control of media in Vietnam and the secrecy that surrounds the arrests and jailing of certain prisoners of conscience, especially those from ethnic minority groups, mean that it is often difficult to find information about cases of prisoners of conscience and it is impossible to state definitively that all prisoners on conscience in the country have been identified.

Letter to APEC Leaders

A letter signed by 17 CSOs urged leaders who attended the 2017 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vietnam to raise the issue of human rights violations committed by state forces. The letter informed APEC leaders that Vietnam has detained at least 25 peaceful activists and bloggers since last year.

This crackdown is contrary to the goal of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future” which is the stated theme of this year’s APEC gathering. Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards.

We believe it is in the strong interest of APEC and of the international community to speak out against the widespread and systematic violations of human rights violations in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Nguyễn Bảo Nguyên, daughter of detained dissident blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) wrote a letter addressed to Melania Trump seeking help in securing the release of her mother. The United States First Lady joined President Donald Trump in Vietnam during the APEC summit.

I’ve read on the social media and knew that your family will be visiting Vietnam during APEC summit. My birthday is only a few more days away. It’s going to be another birthday that my brother Gấu (Bear 4-year-old) and I will have to be without my Mom. We love Mommy very much and just want Mommy to be home with us.

#StopTheCrackdownVN

Nine human rights groups launched the #StopTheCrackdownVN campaign decrying the crackdown of bloggers and activists in recent months and the harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the state.

Don Le, a writer and member of Viet Tan political party, explained how the notorious articles 79 and 88 of the law are used by authorities to silence citizens:

The law also allows authorities to filter, block or temporarily shutdown networks on the basis of any information that may be seen to “incite” mass gatherings that disturb national security and order. Given the Vietnamese government’s broad interpretation of national security, we might expect to see more attacks and shutdowns aimed at independent media and bloggers and arrests of peaceful community mobilisers.

Even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement last July expressing concern about the detention and persecution of citizen journalists:

We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all those detained in connection with their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, and to amend the overly broad ill-defined laws that are used – under the pretext of national security – to crack down on dissent.

by Mong Palatino at November 15, 2017 03:41 PM

Global Voices
#StopTheCrackdownVN: Global Groups Call for Human Rights Protection in Vietnam

Human rights groups are calling for the release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

Global civil society organizations (CSOs) have launched a series  initiatives to highlight Vietnam’s alarming human rights situation.

Online database of prisoners of conscience

The NOW! campaign, founded by 14 human rights organizations, calls for the immediate release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. The campaign has established a comprehensive online database containing information about Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience.

According to the database, Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience included bloggers, journalists, environmentalists, students, farmers, and workers who were arrested for their peaceful activism.

Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest.

Most of them were charged with violating article 79 of the criminal law, “plotting to overthrow the government”, and article 88, “conducting propaganda against the state”.

But Civil Rights Defenders, one of the members of the NOW! campaign, said that the number of prisoners of conscience could be higher:

The government’s near total control of media in Vietnam and the secrecy that surrounds the arrests and jailing of certain prisoners of conscience, especially those from ethnic minority groups, mean that it is often difficult to find information about cases of prisoners of conscience and it is impossible to state definitively that all prisoners on conscience in the country have been identified.

Letter to APEC Leaders

A letter signed by 17 CSOs urged leaders who attended the 2017 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vietnam to raise the issue of human rights violations committed by state forces. The letter informed APEC leaders that Vietnam has detained at least 25 peaceful activists and bloggers since last year.

This crackdown is contrary to the goal of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future” which is the stated theme of this year’s APEC gathering. Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards.

We believe it is in the strong interest of APEC and of the international community to speak out against the widespread and systematic violations of human rights violations in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Nguyễn Bảo Nguyên, daughter of detained dissident blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) wrote a letter addressed to Melania Trump seeking help in securing the release of her mother. The United States First Lady joined President Donald Trump in Vietnam during the APEC summit.

I’ve read on the social media and knew that your family will be visiting Vietnam during APEC summit. My birthday is only a few more days away. It’s going to be another birthday that my brother Gấu (Bear 4-year-old) and I will have to be without my Mom. We love Mommy very much and just want Mommy to be home with us.

#StopTheCrackdownVN

Nine human rights groups launched the #StopTheCrackdownVN campaign decrying the crackdown of bloggers and activists in recent months and the harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the state.

Don Le, a writer and member of Viet Tan political party, explained how the notorious articles 79 and 88 of the law are used by authorities to silence citizens:

The law also allows authorities to filter, block or temporarily shutdown networks on the basis of any information that may be seen to “incite” mass gatherings that disturb national security and order. Given the Vietnamese government’s broad interpretation of national security, we might expect to see more attacks and shutdowns aimed at independent media and bloggers and arrests of peaceful community mobilisers.

Even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement last July expressing concern about the detention and persecution of citizen journalists:

We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all those detained in connection with their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, and to amend the overly broad ill-defined laws that are used – under the pretext of national security – to crack down on dissent.

by Mong Palatino at November 15, 2017 03:37 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/15/2017: Ellen Pao and the bad apples of venture
This week, venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson left that firm following allegations of inappropriate behavior and an internal investigation. The company said he left by mutual agreement. Ellen Pao is a venture capitalist who sued another well-known firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, for gender discrimination in 2012. She lost the case, but it inspired other women to come forward. Marketplace Tech’s Molly Wood talked with Pao about how her public battle shined a light on venture capital’s culture.

by Marketplace at November 15, 2017 11:30 AM

Creative Commons
Create Refresh Campaign: Stop the EU Copyright Censorship Machine

The Create Refresh campaign is a new project to highlight the concerns of creators regarding the EU’s proposed changes to copyright law. Supporting organisations include Creative Commons, Kennisland, La Quadrature du Net, and others. Create Refresh is “calling on creators to be part of a movement to defend their right to create. [The] ultimate aim is to inspire a new solution for digital copyright that protects all creators and their careers.”

The initiative focuses on Article 13 of the European Commission’s copyright proposal, which would require all online services that permit user-generated uploads to install filters that can automatically detect, flag, and censor copyrighted material before the content even hits the web. The provision would apply to websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, and even noncommercial sites like Wikipedia.

Such a problematic requirement could be in conflict with other fundamental rights enshrined in existing EU law, such as the provision in the E-Commerce Directive that prohibits general monitoring obligations for internet platforms. Second, the content filtering mechanism would likely be unable to take into account other user rights, such as current limitations and exceptions to copyright. The proposal fails to establish rules that protect the ability of EU citizens to use copyright-protected works in transformative ways—such as video remixes. Or, as OpenMedia puts it, “automated systems are incapable of making sophisticated judgements and will inevitably err on the side of censoring creativity and speech that is perfectly legal.”

In the next few months the remaining European Parliament committees responsible for the reform will hold their votes on potential amendments to the Commission’s original plan. This includes the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), and the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). In addition, the Council of the European Union—essentially, the EU Member State governments led by the Estonian Presidency—has been floating proposed changes. 

Create Refresh comes to the same conclusion as CC and dozens of other civil society organisations calling for a progressive copyright that protects both users and the public interest in the digital environment: Article 13 should be removed from the proposal.

Creators interested in contributing to the campaign can apply for a small grant to develop videos, artwork, or other creative works relating to Article 13 and freedom of expression. Check out Create Refresh on their website, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The post <em>Create Refresh</em> Campaign: Stop the EU Copyright Censorship Machine appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at November 15, 2017 08:00 AM

November 14, 2017

Global Voices
Jamaican Women Demand the Right to ‘Bare Arms’ at Government Offices

Would this bare-armed woman be allowed into a public building in Jamaica? If the current dress code status quo remains, probably not. Photo by flickr user AntonSLarsson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Jamaica is a hot country, and with climate change it's getting hotter. On August 3, 2017, the country's meteorological service registered a record high of 36.9 degrees Celsius in Kingston, the capital.

So, with all this heat, why do Jamaican women (and men) need to cover their arms (and legs, and feet) when visiting a government office or institution? Because of a set of dress codes — an issue that was recently raised on Twitter, with traditional media quickly catching on to the debate.

The discussion is not at all new. In 2010, The Gleaner newspaper reported that the dress code pertaining to government entities was not even relaxed in emergencies. In one instance, this resulted in the death of a woman who “was killed minutes after she was reportedly turned away from a police station because she was instructed by a policeman to get ‘properly dressed’ before entering the station.”

Several years ago, there were persistent complaints in the media, including this 2014 letter to The Gleaner newspaper, in which the writer concluded, “Perhaps Jamaica would now be First World if we stopped majoring in the minor.”

Columnist Garth Rattray also noted:

Even grief-stricken parents and relatives are turned away from public hospitals if they are deemed to be inappropriately attired. Most of the time, one's attire is the very last thing on one's mind when a loved one is seriously ill. It is heartless to turn away someone for wearing the same clothes that they would wear in any city capital.

The dress codes for government institutions are ridiculous, hypocritical, unfair, sectarian, archaic, bigoted nonsense. It's time to get rid of them. Short of exposing private parts, I can't imagine how one's attire can influence the way that business is conducted on government property.

In fact, there is no Jamaican law prohibiting sleeveless dress for men or women; but almost all government agencies have a notice on the door stating that the dress code includes (but is not limited to): strapless blouses, sleeveless blouses, tank tops, low cut blouses, short mini skirts, tube tops, shorts (for women); and shorts, slippers, low-slung pants, undershirts (for men). The list of prohibited items for women is usually longer.

The discussion was revived via a Facebook post by University of the West Indies professor Verene Shepherd, which was shared on Twitter:

There followed a slew of personal anecdotes from Jamaicans, who had visited government offices and were turned away:

Even television reporters visiting a government-run open air greenhouse were not immune:

The same television station devoted its weekly current affairs program to the topic:

The host of the show took the opportunity to make a “sartorial statement” in the studio:

Some noted the double standards in Jamaicans’ adherence to — or disregard for — rules. Broadcaster and educator Fae Ellington tweeted:

One tweeter referred to a British comedian, who portrays an overdressed rapper:

However, not all Jamaicans were opposed to the dress code. One of the arguments for the “no bare arms” policy was hygiene:

The perspiration argument was refuted by some:

However, many Jamaicans were quite happy to follow the rules, as one television viewer noted:

Will there be an online petition? Not yet, it seems, although one television commentator mentioned plans to post one on the Office of the Prime Minister's Jamaica House Petition portal:

However, most of the current petitions are currently languishing with very few votes between them. So far, there are none on the dress code issue.

Nevertheless, an informal online media poll showed 72% of readers supported the relaxation of the sleeveless rule.

Latching on to the social media discussion, the Jamaica Observer consulted with a well-known human rights lawyer, Bert Samuels, who suggested that refusing to grant entry to public buildings because people are dressed in sleeveless clothing “could offend their constitutional right to liberty, freedom of association and freedom of movement”. He added that the legislation which addresses clothing is the indecent exposure law, which is really intended to prohibit the exposure of private parts.

Fellow attorney Hilaire Sobers commented on Facebook:

Time for my legal profession to challenge this nonsense in the courts.

The newspaper featured the contentious issue on its front page:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are always Jamaican entrepreneurs (whom some might call “hustlers”) ready to profit from the situation, with some renting appropriate clothing outside some government offices.

While former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, was well-known and admired for her sleeveless fashions, overseas-based educator Grace Virtue likened the dress code to “Trumpism”:

Trumpism : When you live in a tropical country (96 degrees in the shade…) and thick long-sleeved lined polyester suits are accepted as proper dress code and a sleeveless shirt is a violation. Trump is a metaphor – for ignorance and the utterly absurd! I don't even know about the legality but I am certain of the stupidity!

It is notable that this is not a purely Jamaican phenomenon; according to a number of online sources, including this post from Barbados, it is common elsewhere in the English-speaking Caribbean.

There has been very little response from any government agency or institution to the most recent uproar over the rules. Apart from social media outrage, there has also been very little in terms of action, which may suggest that this may continue to be an unresolved issue two or three years’ from now.

by Emma Lewis at November 14, 2017 09:38 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Facebook's ‘Explore Feed’ Experiment Is Hurting Small Businesses, NGOs, and Political Groups in Cambodia

An Internet shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Flickr photo by Melissa Gira (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On October 19, 2017, Facebook began testing a new system for its newsfeed in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

In the experiment, Facebook users only see posts from their friends (alongside sponsored content) in their regular News Feed. Updates from news outlets, NGOs, political parties and other groups that they follow on Facebook will not appear unless they click a new button, named “Explore Feed”.

Facebook page owners must pay if they want their content promoted in the regular News Feed.

This experiment has drastically reduced the number of visitors and engagements of Facebook pages, especially the online activity of small businesses, non-government organizations, and political groups that cannot afford to pay for content promotion.

Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s News Feed, explained why the company is conducting this experiment, which is expected to last for several months:

We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.

The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further.

In Cambodia, the experiment appears to have generated major losses of traffic for several Facebook pages belonging to news outlets, online stores, NGOs, and political parties. According to news reports, Facebook pages in Cambodia recorded losing up to 60 percent of visitors and engagements after the launch of the “Explore Feed” button.

Facebook’s experiment comes at a tense time in Cambodia, with the country's ruling party facing accusations of silencing the opposition, independent media, and NGOs ahead of the 2018 general elections. The sudden disappearance of posts from independent news sources and opposition parties in Cambodians’ Facebook News Feeds has exacerbated the problem.

Cambodia has almost five million Facebook users out of a total population of 15 million. In a survey conducted in 2016, it was revealed that most Cambodians are now getting their news from Facebook.

Jaime Gill, a freelance communications adviser working with several NGOs, summarized the impact of Facebook’s experiment in Cambodia:

By slicing news out of people’s feeds and sending it to a content graveyard where stories are buried, Facebook has cut off a source of information for millions of Cambodians. With a pivotal election rapidly approaching, it’s a worrying time for such an experiment.

The big international NGOs just gained another advantage in the battle for awareness and funds. They already have the money to spend substantial amounts promoting posts on Facebook; now they’ll be even more prominent in newsfeeds. Not so for smaller NGOs.

Tharum Bun, a social media analyst, wrote that ordinary Facebook users in Cambodia probably didn’t notice Facebook’s experiment:

I think the majority of Cambodians may not notice this tweak. What matters is that they still see that Facebook is working and feeding them the content they want to consume. If the social networking site were having a one-hour downtime, the public will get angry much more than this introduction of the Explore Feed.

But even if this is the case, Facebook’s experiment deprived many people of information by making it difficult for groups with limited resources to boost their content on the popular social media platform.

The experiment could also undermine the social media initiatives of NGOs, independent media, and the political opposition. These groups have been relying on Facebook in recent years to counter the propaganda machinery of the ruling party which has been in power for more than three decades.

Facebook has yet to release a statement about the result of its experiment.

by Mong Palatino at November 14, 2017 06:24 PM

Global Voices
Facebook's ‘Explore Feed’ Experiment Is Hurting Small Businesses, NGOs, and Political Groups in Cambodia

An Internet shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Flickr photo by Melissa Gira (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On October 19, 2017, Facebook began testing a new system for its newsfeed in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

In the experiment, Facebook users only see posts from their friends (alongside sponsored content) in their regular News Feed. Updates from news outlets, NGOs, political parties and other groups that they follow on Facebook will not appear unless they click a new button, named “Explore Feed”.

Facebook page owners must pay if they want their content promoted in the regular News Feed.

This experiment has drastically reduced the number of visitors and engagements of Facebook pages, especially the online activity of small businesses, non-government organizations, and political groups that cannot afford to pay for content promotion.

Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s News Feed, explained why the company is conducting this experiment, which is expected to last for several months:

We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.

The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further.

In Cambodia, the experiment appears to have generated major losses of traffic for several Facebook pages belonging to news outlets, online stores, NGOs, and political parties. According to news reports, Facebook pages in Cambodia recorded losing up to 60 percent of visitors and engagements after the launch of the “Explore Feed” button.

Facebook’s experiment comes at a tense time in Cambodia, with the country's ruling party facing accusations of silencing the opposition, independent media, and NGOs ahead of the 2018 general elections. The sudden disappearance of posts from independent news sources and opposition parties in Cambodians’ Facebook News Feeds has exacerbated the problem.

Cambodia has almost five million Facebook users out of a total population of 15 million. In a survey conducted in 2016, it was revealed that most Cambodians are now getting their news from Facebook.

Jaime Gill, a freelance communications adviser working with several NGOs, summarized the impact of Facebook’s experiment in Cambodia:

By slicing news out of people’s feeds and sending it to a content graveyard where stories are buried, Facebook has cut off a source of information for millions of Cambodians. With a pivotal election rapidly approaching, it’s a worrying time for such an experiment.

The big international NGOs just gained another advantage in the battle for awareness and funds. They already have the money to spend substantial amounts promoting posts on Facebook; now they’ll be even more prominent in newsfeeds. Not so for smaller NGOs.

Tharum Bun, a social media analyst, wrote that ordinary Facebook users in Cambodia probably didn’t notice Facebook’s experiment:

I think the majority of Cambodians may not notice this tweak. What matters is that they still see that Facebook is working and feeding them the content they want to consume. If the social networking site were having a one-hour downtime, the public will get angry much more than this introduction of the Explore Feed.

But even if this is the case, Facebook’s experiment deprived many people of information by making it difficult for groups with limited resources to boost their content on the popular social media platform.

The experiment could also undermine the social media initiatives of NGOs, independent media, and the political opposition. These groups have been relying on Facebook in recent years to counter the propaganda machinery of the ruling party which has been in power for more than three decades.

Facebook has yet to release a statement about the result of its experiment.

by Mong Palatino at November 14, 2017 06:22 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
In India, Class and Gender Inequities Impede Justice for Sexual Harassment Victims

Image via Pixabay by Surdumihail. Creative Commons CC0.

The #MeToo campaign that encourages women to speak up about their experiences of sexual assault harassment has been a catalyst for such accusations across political, professional and geographic spectrums.

An especially powerful and controversial trend in this moment is one among people who have created public lists of accused perpetrators of sexual misconduct.

On 24 October 2017, a law student in the US published just such a list on Facebook. Raya Sarkar, a Singaporean national who is studying law in the US, published the names of 58 academicians at 29 universities, mostly in India, who students accused of sexual harassment or assault.

Sarkar, who prefers the pronouns they/them, crowdsourced the list through their friends and networks, and collected evidence from each victim in order to verify their allegations.

The published list has been seen by many as an attempt to pull back the curtain and speak openly about the issue of sexual harassment in India's academic sector. In an interview with BBC, Raya Sarkar explained that this initiative was an attempt at making friends and colleagues wary of the people who have a history of sexual misconduct. The aim, they said, was just to help people feel safe.

Raya Sarkar told BuzzFeed that the published list was based on evidence collected by one-on-communication with each victim — this includes messages, screenshots, and testimonials. Sarkar has not published any of this evidence, on grounds that maintaining the confidentiality of the evidence is imperative until victims choose to make their accusations public. But they also have encouraged victims to file reports with police and other relevant authorities, writing on Facebook:

If you are a victim of sexual harassment go file an FIR (police report). No internal committee nonsense. Go straight to court. Internal committees will exhaust you harder than courts, speaking from 1st hand experience.

Since sexual harassment is a punishable crime in India, a complaint can be filed against the harasser.

While many saw this move by Raya Sarkar as quite a bold one, others were skeptical of the tactic. Deepanjana Pal writes in NewsLaundry:

Viewed from a legal perspective, Sarkar’s list inhabits an ethical danger zone. The complainants are anonymous, the charges are vague and the only definite detail is the name of the accused.

In an article for Daily O, Sumit Mitra explained that the main factor is that there seems to be a lack of answerability since the victims of harassment have not come forward to share their stories.

But many on Twitter have made the point that it is difficult for victims to do this without harming their own reputations or becoming vulnerable to further threats:

The list has also received mixed opinions from feminists. A group of 12 feminists published a statement on the Kafila Online blog, wherein they appealed to the contributors of the list to either retract it, or work within the proper course of law and justice. They echoed the view of some legal experts who raised concern about the lack of public evidence:

It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability. Where there are genuine complaints, there are institutions and procedures, which we should utilize. We too know the process is harsh and often tilted against the complainant. We remain committed to strengthening these processes. At the same time, abiding by the principles of natural justice, we remain committed to due process, which is fair and just.

This manner of naming can delegitimize the long struggle against sexual harassment, and make our task as feminists more difficult.

Responses to the letter reflected concern about the system of due process that the Kafila group referenced. One commenter, identified as “Officious Fool”, wrote:

…what incentive does someone, who has nothing but her first-hand experience to back her statement, have to speak up against these people who wield such immense power in academic circles? The intent to strengthen redressal mechanisms need not delegitimise personal accounts. Please don’t discourage people from speaking out. And please don’t say “due process” if you can’t vouch for the protection of those who do come forward.

The list and responses to it also hint at other underlying issues in Indian society and culture. Most of the professors named in the list hail from the upper castes in the Hindu caste system, demonstrating an often unacknowledged aspect of the prevailing hegemony of the upper caste in Indian society.

Sudhamshu Mitra posted a message of support for Sarkar's initiative on Facebook. Mitra, who is an engineer in Bangalore, expressed initial unease with the list. But he then reasoned that Sarkar's tactic was a deft one in the face of class and gender divides in India:

…in my experience, upper caste men(including me), who talk about feminist ideals, or who have gained immense academic stature, can easily find a way out of the current justice system. Because the entire justice system itself is aligned towards keeping patriarchy and caste system intact.

For instance, if my name was on the list, or if someone accused me of sexual harassment, I doubt many would believe that because of the conversations I engage in with respect to masculinity and feminism. That's how much power I possess. An “upper” caste man proclaiming progressive ideas is put on a pedestal in our society. But others who constantly engage in politics of daily lives and raise issues on inequality and oppression are not even listened to.

While social media voices continue to debate the issue, most universities have refused to respond or explained that they will investigate the accusations independently.

by Devika Sakhadeo at November 14, 2017 06:08 PM

Global Voices
In India, Class and Gender Inequities Impede Justice for Sexual Harassment Victims

Image via Pixabay by Surdumihail. Creative Commons CC0.

The #MeToo campaign that encourages women to speak up about their experiences of sexual assault harassment has been a catalyst for such accusations across political, professional and geographic spectrums.

An especially powerful and controversial trend in this moment is one among people who have created public lists of accused perpetrators of sexual misconduct.

On 24 October 2017, a law student in the US published just such a list on Facebook. Raya Sarkar, a Singaporean national who is studying law in the US, published the names of 58 academicians at 29 universities, mostly in India, who students accused of sexual harassment or assault.

Sarkar, who prefers the pronouns they/them, crowdsourced the list through their friends and networks, and collected evidence from each victim in order to verify their allegations.

The published list has been seen by many as an attempt to pull back the curtain and speak openly about the issue of sexual harassment in India's academic sector. In an interview with BBC, Raya Sarkar explained that this initiative was an attempt at making friends and colleagues wary of the people who have a history of sexual misconduct. The aim, they said, was just to help people feel safe.

Raya Sarkar told BuzzFeed that the published list was based on evidence collected by one-on-communication with each victim — this includes messages, screenshots, and testimonials. Sarkar has not published any of this evidence, on grounds that maintaining the confidentiality of the evidence is imperative until victims choose to make their accusations public. But they also have encouraged victims to file reports with police and other relevant authorities, writing on Facebook:

If you are a victim of sexual harassment go file an FIR (police report). No internal committee nonsense. Go straight to court. Internal committees will exhaust you harder than courts, speaking from 1st hand experience.

Since sexual harassment is a punishable crime in India, a complaint can be filed against the harasser.

While many saw this move by Raya Sarkar as quite a bold one, others were skeptical of the tactic. Deepanjana Pal writes in NewsLaundry:

Viewed from a legal perspective, Sarkar’s list inhabits an ethical danger zone. The complainants are anonymous, the charges are vague and the only definite detail is the name of the accused.

In an article for Daily O, Sumit Mitra explained that the main factor is that there seems to be a lack of answerability since the victims of harassment have not come forward to share their stories.

But many on Twitter have made the point that it is difficult for victims to do this without harming their own reputations or becoming vulnerable to further threats:

The list has also received mixed opinions from feminists. A group of 12 feminists published a statement on the Kafila Online blog, wherein they appealed to the contributors of the list to either retract it, or work within the proper course of law and justice. They echoed the view of some legal experts who raised concern about the lack of public evidence:

It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability. Where there are genuine complaints, there are institutions and procedures, which we should utilize. We too know the process is harsh and often tilted against the complainant. We remain committed to strengthening these processes. At the same time, abiding by the principles of natural justice, we remain committed to due process, which is fair and just.

This manner of naming can delegitimize the long struggle against sexual harassment, and make our task as feminists more difficult.

Responses to the letter reflected concern about the system of due process that the Kafila group referenced. One commenter, identified as “Officious Fool”, wrote:

…what incentive does someone, who has nothing but her first-hand experience to back her statement, have to speak up against these people who wield such immense power in academic circles? The intent to strengthen redressal mechanisms need not delegitimise personal accounts. Please don’t discourage people from speaking out. And please don’t say “due process” if you can’t vouch for the protection of those who do come forward.

The list and responses to it also hint at other underlying issues in Indian society and culture. Most of the professors named in the list hail from the upper castes in the Hindu caste system, demonstrating an often unacknowledged aspect of the prevailing hegemony of the upper caste in Indian society.

Sudhamshu Mitra posted a message of support for Sarkar's initiative on Facebook. Mitra, who is an engineer in Bangalore, expressed initial unease with the list. But he then reasoned that Sarkar's tactic was a deft one in the face of class and gender divides in India:

…in my experience, upper caste men(including me), who talk about feminist ideals, or who have gained immense academic stature, can easily find a way out of the current justice system. Because the entire justice system itself is aligned towards keeping patriarchy and caste system intact.

For instance, if my name was on the list, or if someone accused me of sexual harassment, I doubt many would believe that because of the conversations I engage in with respect to masculinity and feminism. That's how much power I possess. An “upper” caste man proclaiming progressive ideas is put on a pedestal in our society. But others who constantly engage in politics of daily lives and raise issues on inequality and oppression are not even listened to.

While social media voices continue to debate the issue, most universities have refused to respond or explained that they will investigate the accusations independently.

by Devika Sakhadeo at November 14, 2017 06:04 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Increasing Voter Knowledge with Pre-Election Interventions on Facebook

Liveblog of Winter Mason's talk at MIT sponsored by the MIT Gov/Lab on 13 November 2017. All errors are mine.

Moving voter knowledge is hard but possible.

Winter starts by introducing the unusually large research team serving the Civic Engagement products at Facebook. Civic engagement is one of the five major pillars of how Facebook seeks to realize its mission. Zuckerberg has clearly stated that ensuring people have a voice in their government is a priority for the platform and is the mission driving the civic engagement product team. 

Political efficacy is their north star for "better" for evaluating their product success. They see themselves involved in addressing a longer term trend in declining political efficacy in America as documented by ANES (see definition and graph below).

The civic engagement team at Facebook also thinks deeply about the values that are driving their work. In their work they reflect on whether they are being selfless, protective, fair, representative, constructive, and conscious. The value of consciousness is about knowing what their impact is whether positive or negative. They want to understand whether they are doing the things they are trying to do and not doing the things they are trying to avoid.

Research Strategy

The research process for the team begins with qualitative research: asking people is the cornerstone to understanding how people think about civics and politics. They have done research in 12 countries and multiple U.S. cities, group interviews with U.S. Senate and Congressional staffers, and interviews with social media managers of world leaders.

They have found that elections are one of the core ways that citizens feel they are heard. Everybody wants to have some way to connect with their representatives. However, people feel that there are few opportunities to be heard—they are skeptical whether individual voices matter. There has also been concern, especially among international interviewees, that there is personal risk for discussing politics online. These insights drive subsequent research and product design ideas.

Quantitative analysis on the platform around representative pages have found that connections between users and politicians do not follow constituencies. They have also noted that discussions are spiky around major events. Breaking down a topic model around legislator page discussions found that in-district and out-of-district users shows that it's hard to know whether to pay attention to certain things like swearing when you don't know if it's a true constituent. This led to the constituent badging design feature that shows who is in the district, helping representatives focus their attention in discussions.

Quantitative analysis has also revealed gaps in political engagement on Facebook. There are differences across ages and between men and women, with women on average contributing far fewer political comments among users ages 20–60. By using surveys, they can also check for political ideology self-reports to understand what biases may exist across the political spectrum among users.

CASE STUDY: 2016 U.S. Election Voting Knowledge

Voting Plan was Facebook's flagship product to enhance people's knowledge of their ballot. It provided the slate of candidates for people running in a user's district and any endorsements that had been made.

Note: All data in this study was anonymized and then deleted after the study. Analysis happened within 30 days of the election and those data are no longer available and there is no way to go back and check on individuals' preferences now.

They conducted a large scale survey to measure their impact on both knowledge and key attitudes. The survey was built according to your own ballot. Contest knowledge questions asked about which offices were being elected this year. And candidate knowledge questions asked about who was running for those offices. And they wanted to make sure they were changing people's positions so they measured "affective polarization," a.k.a. how tribal people were feeling toward their own party.

Random control groups were used to causally determine the impact of these products. The treatment group received a newsfeed promo inviting them to use the voting plan, which they could also access through search, bookmark, and friends' posts. And a random 1% of users were in the control group that still had access to the tool through search, bookmark, and posts but did not get the newsfeed promo.

They found a significant lift in knowledge of ballot contests for treatment versus control. This 6% lift is equivalent to the difference between high school and college students. There was no difference in candidate knowledge, which means this a place for improving the design. There was also no difference on affective polarization (which is good!), they were not having an impact on political attitudes.

CASE STUDY: 2017 French and UK Elections Voting Knowledge

On politician pages, there was a new "Issue" tab where officials could add cards with their positions on different issues. Of course, only the few most hardcore political junkies would go to an issues tab on a politician's page.


See video on Huffingtonpost.fr.

So, the "Election Perspectives" product was introduced in the 2017 French and UK elections so that these issue position cards could be added onto newsfeed items that discussed those particular issues. This allowed people to browse through and compare the positions of different candidates and different parties. Users could then also share different policy cards.

They saw a lot of engagement with these cards. First, they broke down clicks and shares and saw that there was some difference between issue interest and those that sparked a desire to share after browsing the cards.

And they did survey research in UK and France (at both election rounds) that asked about knowledge about candidates as well as perspectives on their own knowledge and the diversity of political information sources. In France, they found that the impact was detectable during Round 2 between treatment and control among those who had the lowest political interest. Of course, this was a small group because those that have low political interest are least likely to interact with the Election Perspectives tool. That said, this is now driving some design work on how they could reach this group in other ways.

In the UK, they ran the same survey as during the first two rounds in France although with a much larger sample. There were also two control groups because the UK has a long-term hold-out group not exposed to Facebook civic engagement products. However, despite the larger power and stronger design for impact of any of their products there was no different political knowledge even when controlling for political interest.

Conclusion: Increase voter knowledge is a tough yet worthwhile endeavor. Winter notes that the neutral impacts are still important because they ensure that they are being responsible in their research and their product design.

Selected/Edited Q&A

Question: How are you acting on the gap in female participation that you illustrated?

Facebook doesn't just want to optimize for engagement with the platform. Fairness is a principle they take seriously in practice. There is one example from a product where they changed the privacy settings around sharing political preferences. The stricter privacy model reduced overall participation but increase female participation which the closer to the true goal.

Question: Is Facebook only committed to thinking about civics in such a high-minded way about voting information and elections, especially considering we are realizing that low-minded, meme-pandering is a huge part of the discourse and is having an impact on elections?

If Facebook found that memes were really effective and getting politicians to listen to their constituents, then they would have to look closer at that. They are completely committed to the goal of having real voice in government.

There are other teams at Facebook focused on civil discourse. They know that women don't participate online in politics because of the abuse they sustain. And it is against their goal of fairness, so they opt for a higher minded approach because it is closer to their holistic goals.

Question: The elephant in the room is the problem of fake news and the use of advertising by nefarious actors, the best known is Russia.

Winter thanks the audience member for disambiguating between Facebook's opinion and his own. First, the Facebook company position is that they need to address bad stuff like fake news and the company has been very public about hiring up on this and will likely continue to do so.

But if Winter argues that if Facebook only tried to stamp out the bad stuff and didn't try to promote democracy, then they would be missing out on a huge opportunity. His high-minded belief is that in the long-term the focus on things like voting information may help address these problems.

Question: How are these new products improving the quality of political discourse on Facebook?

Studying this is on Winter's to-do list. He knows they have roughly doubled the connections between people and their representatives and doubled the number of interactions between them. But looking at the nature of political discussion before and after the introduction of their new products has not been closely researched yet.

Question: How do you deal with biases in the sample participation on Facebook and on your research? Are you re-weighting them to what the American electorate looks like?

This is something I Winter has been looking at and he says he should probably report on his slides. And it turns out that respondents to their surveys are closer demographically to the American electorate than to the Facebook population.

Question: Could reducing men's commenting produce fairer participation or perhaps we should move toward a model of collective action? And what does this mean about political efficacy?

There is much more to research here. In their analyses, Facebook has found that being connected to your representatives is most closely correlated with political efficacy.

Question: What about products between elections? Would you do something about election promises?

They have been thinking a lot about this, especially accountability ideas, although they don't know exactly how to implement this. The "Town Hall" tool is the start of this to allow everyone to easily follow their representatives after an election. And now there is a way to get a summary of posts from representatives on a regular basis.

Question: You talked about the difference between civics and politics. How are you thinking about civic engagement and grassroots efforts?

They recently sat down with the leaders of groups like Pantsuit Nation and March for Science and asked them about what their needs were and what they wanted to do next. They are really excited to do more thinking about this.

by erhardt at November 14, 2017 04:52 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/14/2017: Should tech investors be chasing zebras instead of unicorns?
In the tech world, the word “unicorn” refers to a startup company that investors value at more than $1 billion. Unicorns include companies like Uber, Airbnb and Pinterest. But a group of women founders said venture capitalists are too focused on the exponential growth that unicorns provide. They’re pushing back, and have come up with a new term, “zebras,” which they call companies that are both profitable and good for society. Marketplace’s Amy Scott talks with Mara Zepeda, one of the founders of the Zebra Movement.

by Marketplace at November 14, 2017 11:30 AM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Overheard in LIL - Episode 2

This week:

A chat bot that can sue anyone and everything!

Devices listening to our every move

And an interview with Jack Cushman, a developer in LIL, about built-in compassion (and cruelty) in law, why lawyers should learn to program, weird internet, and lovely podcast gimmicks (specifically that of Rachel and Griffin McElroy's Wonderful! podcast)

Starring Adam Ziegler, Anastasia Aizman, Brett Johnson, Casey Gruppioni, and Jack Cushman.

by Anastasia Aizman at November 14, 2017 12:00 AM

November 13, 2017

Alexander Macgillivray
Recap & Response to a Thread on Speech
Sometimes a Twitter thread is easier to read as a blog post.

The below was originally posted on Twitter.

1) Good thread by @yonatanzunger with a bunch of useful truths. Recap & comments from me below.

2) Speech can be used as a weapon against other speech: https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914609013722984448
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914609721696559109
See also @superwuster arguing that the 1st Am is obsolete in an era of attention scarcity.

Fight between Rioters and Militia, from Pen and Pencil Sketches of the Great RiotsImage in the Public Domain.

3) People bear diff costs of bad speech & harassment, disadvantaged often most affected:
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914609927729147904
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914610451782156288

4) Understanding & combating speech that reduces engagement can further a speech maximizing policy goal:
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914611676497899520
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914611742247809024
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914612024126038016

5) Having + stating an “editorial voice,” gestures, public perception & examples also can be important:
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914612173023744001
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914611921038409729
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914612262790402048

The Frame, from TypographiaImage in the Public Domain.


6) Also, he gives great pointers to smart folks in the online community field:
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914609375523852288
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914611296150188032
https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/914611486881808384
And of course there are many more, incl: Heather Champ, @juniperdowns, Victoria Grand, Monika Bickert, Shantal Rands, Micah Schaffer, @delbius, @nicolewong, @zeynep, @zephoria, @StephenBalkam, @unburntwitch, @noUpside, @EthanZ,  @jessamyn, @sarahjeong + many many more incl great non-US folk. And including the folks & orgs on the various advisory councils:
https://blog.twitter.com/official/en_us/a/2016/announcing-the-twitter-trust-safety-council.html
https://www.facebook.com/help/222332597793306/ (and others)
As @yonatanzunger says, this work is a team sport that advances with help from all around.

7) I have some Qs re his 47 USC §230 (CDA) points. I don't know a case of something like his “editorial voice” breaking immunity or otherwise causing a “huge legal risk.” Indeed that was the point of §230 originally. So, asking experts: @ericgoldman & @daphnehk what do you think?

8) Also, I don’t think “maximizing speech” is quite the right goal or that every service should have the same goal. I want something different when I go to Facebook v Twitter v YouTube.
Also, I want more than one good service whose arch + policies (and, sure, “editorial voice”) support an extremely wide diversity of views being able to flourish, be expressed well & be easy to find & interact with including from outside social circles. But your mileage may vary.

9) Naturally, I also disagree that Twitter folks (including me) “never took [these issues] seriously,” provided “bullshit” explanations, were naive, and chased traffic over good policy. Was there & think I'd know.
But, taking that sort of beating is kinda part of the job. And, maybe I’m too biased from working & learning these issues at platforms incl many at Google, Twitter & in govt w/ @POTUS44.

10) Anyhow, I’m very glad @yonatanzunger chose to post this thread to Twitter & I hope the suggestions part is read widely.

Printing Press, from Typographia. Image in the Public Domain.



by A M (noreply@blogger.com) at November 13, 2017 07:19 PM

Creative Commons
TPP continues without the worst copyright provisions

Civil society organisations including Creative Commons helped deliver a win against the restrictive IP terms of the TPP, which were developed secret and would have locked down content and restricted user rights.

For the last five years the Creative Commons community has been organising against the restrictive copyright provisions put forth in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We’ve written letters demanding increased transparency, contributed to public events such as the Rock Against the TPP concerts, and drafted an analysis of the copyright-related aspects of the TPP. In that document we said, “there is no logical reason to increase the term of copyright: an extension would create a tiny private benefit at a great cost to the public.”

According to a statement released Saturday, the ministers of the remaining countries negotiating the TPP have “agreed on the core elements” of the deal. Of particular interest are about 20 “suspended provisions” outlined in an annex to the ministerial statement. Most of the provisions in the chapter on intellectual property have been “suspended,” meaning they likely will be excluded from future negotiations. This includes the proposed 20 year increase in copyright term and the introduction of criminal penalties for circumventing technological protection measures.

Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, said, “The suspension of the IP section of TPP is a huge win for the public, delivered in large part because of activists around the world who opposed the secret agreement. They exposed the terms and ensured there was public debate.”

The U.S. has been out of the picture since January 2017, when President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement three days into his administration. Since that time, the name of the trade pact has been changed from TPP to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The gigantic agreement still contains sweeping provisions regarding environmental regulation, pharmaceutical procurement, labor standards, food safety, and many other things. For nearly the last decade, it has been developed and negotiated completely in secret.

The news about the CPTPP comes during an active time of trade agreement talks, particularly in light of the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now being “modernized” by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Concerning those talks, we argued, “the NAFTA provisions having to do with copyright would do more harm than good if there’s not a significant shift in the balance in favor of the rights for users and the public to reflect the reality of today’s digital users.” A fundamental flaw with CPTPP, NAFTA, and nearly all other trade agreement negotiations is that they are entirely opaque to the population governed by them. In a letter to NAFTA negotiators, we demanded reforms to make the proceedings more transparent, inclusive and accountable. It is unacceptable that binding rules on intellectual property, access to medicines, and a variety of other trade-related sectors will be reworked within a process that is inaccessible and often hostile to input from members of the public.

All trade negotiations should be made through procedures that are transparent to the public and which include all stakeholders. Increased transparency and meaningful public participation will lead to better outcomes.

The negotiations of the CPTPP seem far from over, and it’s important to note that the provisions mentioned in the annex are only suspended, not removed entirely. Civil society organisations and consumer watchdog groups should continue to monitor the negotiations. But for now, the freezing of the worst parts of the IP chapter is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise dark, dank cave of trade policymaking.

The post TPP continues without the worst copyright provisions appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at November 13, 2017 06:14 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
11/13/2017: Hair extensions — an overlooked, billion-dollar market
Businesses founded by women and people of color aren't just likely to have a diverse pool of employees — they might also be able to fill a gap in the market. Take Mayvenn, an e-commerce platform that allows hairstylists to sell hair extensions directly to their clients. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked to its CEO, Diishan Imira, about the very lucrative market for hair products and how exactly his service works.

by Marketplace at November 13, 2017 01:28 PM

November 12, 2017

Global Voices
As the MENA Region Heats Up, UN Climate Change Talks are Under Pressure

Drought and high temperatures threaten the MENA region. Image sourced from Wikimedia / Creative Commons.

As the world's nations meet in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd annual conference of the parties (COP23) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 2017 is set to be one of the hottest years on record.

COP 23 Logo. Source: COP 23 Website.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have predicted a harsh fate for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Jordan currently faces one of the most severe droughts in recorded history. In the absence of international climate policy action, the country could receive 30 percent less rainfall by 2100 and annual temperatures could increase by 4.5 Celsius.

The landmark Paris Agreement at COP 21 in 2015 provided the first truly global deal to tackle climate change. The 2017 Bonn meeting will be paramount in building the rules to enact the Paris deal and toughen national actions to meet the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

MENA faces massive heats waves

In October 2015, the journal Nature Climate Change predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival by the end of the century. Heat wave duration in the MENA region will prolong dramatically, lasting 80 days by mid-century and 118 days by the end of the century compared to the present average of 16 days, even if greenhouse gas emissions decline again after 2040.

Screenshot from Google Earth of the Persian Gulf and neighboring countries.

Unrestrained demand for water for agricultural purposes in the region has led to groundwater over‐drafting, declines in water quality and land degradation including salinization (increasing salt content in the soil).
Climate change is expected to compound these trends and the agriculture sector will hit the hardest. More frequent and intense heat waves and reduced rainfall will curb growing seasons. With less rain, there will be a reduction in soil moisture, river runoff, and aquifer recharge. Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

As Safa’ Al-Jayoussi from ‘Climate Action Network – International‘ told Al-Ayam newspaper:

«المنطقة العربية تعاني من الجفاف حاليا الذي ما هو الا بداية تبِعات التغير المناخي ولذلك يجب على المناقشات أن تراعي المجتمعات المحلية الاكثر تأثرا بالأضرار من جهة والتعويض عن الخسائر الناتجة عن تلك الظاهرة من جهة أخرى.”

The Arab region is currently suffering from drought, which is only the beginning of the consequences of climate change and therefore the discussions should take into account the communities most affected by the damage on the one hand and compensation for the losses resulting from that phenomenon, on the other hand.

Jordan, for example, draws 160 percent more water from the ground than is replenished by nature, yet there is little incentive to conserve this precious resource.

The use of water for irrigation remains heavily and unsustainably subsidized by the government, and wastage is a major issue. More than half of Jordan's water is used for agriculture which only produces only a small share of the local food supply. An estimated 50 percent of the water supply is lost due to misuse or theft.

Egypt faces similar problems:

Harnessing the power of sun and wind

Middle Eastern countries are paying a heavy price for their focus on fossil fuels in the form of air pollution and contaminated water. Increasing desertification has adversely affected farming. The fishing industry suffers from deteriorating quality in coastal waters and the negative effects of changing sea temperatures on catches.

But fossil fuels continue to enjoy huge subsidies and are so underpriced that it is difficult for renewable energies to break through. They are perceived as not being cost-competitive because of the sometimes-hidden subsidies offered to fossil fuels.

Only some countries in the region have grown rich by exploiting fossil fuels with the majority sourcing less than 1 percent of electricity from renewables. While all MENA countries stand to benefit from the sun, and the region has huge potential for solar energy and wind power, renewable energies investment is among the lowest in the world. MENA falls behind similar-income countries in this regard, but also behind many poorer countries.

MENA braces for a future of extremes

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), anthropogenic climate change is already significantly increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events like heatwaves, floods, and wildfires. The impact of these natural disasters may be irreversible, severe and widespread for billions of people unless action is taken now to drastically cut global carbon emissions.

Over the last decade, various nations have announced long and medium-term development plans for alternative installations to fossil resources.

For example, Morocco and Jordan have been driven to diversified their energy sources to meet a greater dependency and demand for fuel imports that continue to increase in cost.The Moroccan government is on the verge of achieving its objective to produce 2 Gigawatts (GW) of solar energy and 2 GW of wind energy by 2020, whereas its current wind capacity is over 750 Megavolts (MV). The Jordanian government is planning to increase its initial objective of 600 Megawatts (MW) of solar power to 1 GW by 2020.

Current pledges for carbon cuts by the world’s nations would mean at least 3 degrees Celcius of global warming and severe damage, experts warn. Without serious preparation to build trust and agreement, deals are likely to delay, as the failed COP in Copenhagen in 2009 revealed.

While the Paris Agreement included a mechanism to review and ratchet up these pledges, the rules have not been set, adding pressure to the Bonn meeting to complete this vital work before 2018.

by Christophe Maroun at November 12, 2017 08:28 PM

Albanian Activists Hold Two-Day Protest Against the Building of Hydropower Plants in Valbona National Park

Protest in Tropoja 10 November 2017. Photo by Mirjan Aliaj, used with permission.

Dozens of activists in Tropoja, a Northern district of Albania, conducted a protest action on November 10 and 11 against the ongoing construction of hydropower plants in the Valbonë Valley National Park.

The protest was in response to the decision of the administrative court of Tirana to repeal the lawsuit filed by Valbona citizens who accused the Gener 2 Company of using an expired construction permit.

Soon after the decision was announced, World Wildlife Fund declared that

Undertaking large construction activity, such as building of a hydropower plant, would without a doubt compromise natural processes and cause the destruction of pristine ecosystems in the National park.

Part of the construction in Valbona National Park. Photo by Mirjan Aliaj, used with permission.

The program of building hydropower plants in Valbona was given as a concession by the Ministry of Energy in 2009 when the Democratic Party was still in power. Currently, there are three hydropower plants under construction, and eight more are being considered by the Ministry of Energy. When the Socialist Party came into power in 2013, it promised that it would cancel all hydropower plant projects in national parks. However, this commitment has yet to be fulfilled.

According to the law, decisions about such construction must undergo a process of public hearings. However, citizens from Valbona Valley claim that no public hearings were done, and that the documents provided by the company among others revealed signatures of people who have already died.

#DontTouchValbonaValley
For two days, activists from Tirana and residents of Valbona informed the public about the massacre that is being made to the Valbona National Park, through the construction of the hydropower plants. What has been done to Valbona, one wouldn't do even to the worst enemy.

Activists said some citizens from Bajram Curri, the seat of the Tropoja municipality that includes Valbona, were intimidated from joining the protest because of the threat that the government might stop giving financial aid, such as social benefits or small business subsidies.

Protesters on Friday said the construction of hydropower plants would destroy the future of tourism in the region.

Valbona Valley was classified as a national park in 1996. Investments in ecotourism have improved the park in the past two decades. Over 40,000 tourists visit the area every year.

The video below showed a minor victory when protesters managed to block some employees from entering the project site on November 11.

Valbona National Park. Photo by Besim Lushaj, used with permission.

Only journalists from media channel News 24 reported the protest. But even its video coverage seemed to have been removed from its website.

Online activists used the hashtags #MosmaPrekValbonën or #DontTouchValbonaValley to share photos and videos from the protests. The Facebook page Friends of Valbona also documented the protest.

Some social media commentators criticized the decision of the incumbent government to uphold the bad policies of the previous government in the name of respecting the rule of law. Some warned that the failure to reverse bad governance could lead to greater public cynicism and apathy about electoral democracy.

Activists added that the project to build hydropower plants violates the law amended by the government last May 4, 2017 which prohibits projects that threaten the ecosystem and biodiversity in national parks.

Other natural heritage sites across Albania are also in danger of destruction because of hydropower plant projects. One such area is the Vjosa River Valley in the south, an area identified by the European Parliament for the establishment of a national park last February.

by Alida Karakushi at November 12, 2017 05:49 PM

In a Video Testimony, Mothers Expose Horrible Situation Inside a Venezuelan Children's Hospital

A screenshot from the video made by Prepare Family.

The serious problems facing public hospitals in Venezuela continue to grow with very little help being given by the state and very little attention being paid by the media. Nevertheless, non-government organizations like Prepara Familia (Prepare Family) make use of the Internet to draw attention to these issues. For instance, the organization has made a video in the nephrology ward of Juan Manuel de los Ríos Hospital in Caracas, the country's capital, and presented the difficult situation the patients and their families are in.

The amount of time the patients have spent in the nephrology ward in that hospital has created bonds that are almost equal to those of a family. The mothers make a community and support each other to make up for the shortcomings of their surroundings and the difficulties of the treatments. However, since mid-2017, several of the littlest patients in the waiting room have died, one after the other.

Although the hospital denies it and the authorities had attempted to hide it, some of the rooms and pieces of equipment have shown signs of being contaminated. Studies conducted by the Health Technology Unit of Simón Bolívar University suggested the presence of total coliforms, fecal coliforms, and airborne mesophiles. The machines that the hospital uses to clean the blood of the children contaminated them and were not promptly attended to due to budget constraints. Because of this, some of those who went to this hospital to get better only found themselves in worse conditions.

In the video, the mothers of the patients of the nephrology department of Juan Manuel de los Ríos Hospital tell of the complications that come with the lack of proper hygiene in the hospital, like the infections that further complicate the state of their children's health. In general, children who need dialysis go to the hospital at least twice a week for treatments so when finished they can continue leading normal lives.

Esto ha sido muy fuerte […] no veo mejorar a mi hijo. La situación es horrible.

This has been very difficult […] I don't see any improvement in my son's health. This situation is horrible.

For many of the families affected, the true epidemic is the mismanagement of the government. There are no replacements for the reagents that are used to perform the exams, and the costs are unmanageable. There are no ambulances to transfer the families to other hospitals. At times there was not even enough food in the hospital and they were depending on donations.

In the video, which was first presented on July 5, 2017, the mothers of Deivis, Rafael, and Cristhian – all three of whom are patients of the department – spoke about the situation of the hospital, the lack of maintenance, and the constant infections. Complaints have been made previously before the Office of the Public Prosecutor but they were not allowed to enter with lawyers. The courts also have not accepted claims made by CECODAP, an organization dedicated to the defense of the human rights of children, that has repeatedly called for the acknowledgment of the emergency.

The mothers of the three children who died during August and September gave their testimonies in the video. The number of children who died from infections in the unit has since risen to seven. It was reported in the description of the organization's video that:

A la fecha que fue grabado el video habían fallecido 3 niños (Raziel Jaure, Samuel Becerra, Dilfred Jimenez) y Daniel Laya falleció en los días de la grabación, lamentablemente contaminados con bacterias. El material audiovisual fue presentado en la audiencia Nro. 163 ante la CIDH celebrada el cinco de julio de dos mil diecisiete en Lima, Perú por Cecodap, Prepara Familia y Judith Bront la madre de Samuel Becerra, uno de los niños fallecidos. Desde entonces, tres niños más han fallecido producto de la contaminación que se vive en dicho centro de salud. Sus nombres eran: Deivis Perez, Rafael Velasquez y Cristhian Malave. Varias de las madres que aparecen en el video denunciaban la situación mientras sus hijos aún vivían.

At the time this video was recorded, three children (Raziel Juare, Samuel Becerra, and Dilfred Jimenez) had died and Daniel Laya died during the filming, tragically infected with bacteria. The audiovisual piece was presented in auditorium Number 163 before the CIDH celebrated the fifth of July, 2017 in Lima, Perú by CECODAP, Prepara Familia, and Judith Bront, the mother of Samuel Becerra, one of the dead children. Since then, three more children have died due to the contamination in that hospital. Their names were: Deivis Perez, Rafael Velasquez, and Cristhian Malave. Some of the mothers who appear in this video made complaints about the situation while their children were still alive.

As 2017 comes to an end, the hospital continues to be contaminated. The public prosecutor's response has been to request the closure of the unit and the transfer of the patients to other hospitals. A court dedicated to the protection of children has called on the public prosecutor to guarantee access to the medical treatments that the patients need. Nevertheless, Katherine Martínez, president of the organization Prepara Familia, denied that the unit had been closed. According to Martínez,

The ward and the dialysis clinic continue to be in operation because this is the only unit left in the country that takes pediatric patients who weigh less than 20 kilos.

The mothers of the victims continue to come together at the wakes and meetings. They also continue protesting, and trying to make this situation visible to international authorities. The video was presented to the Court of Interamerican Human Rights, the largest human rights organization on the continent before the Venezuelan government left it in 2013. Seeing how the prosecutor's instructions were not complied, it is unknown if the government will take an active role in solving this emergency, as it seems priorities are focused on the political disputes that divide the country.  

by Beccah Lewis at November 12, 2017 04:35 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
A Look Inside China's Propaganda Bureaucracy
Last October, Xinhua released an English catchy song to explain to foreigner China's 13th five year plan. Image from the video.

The publicity department of the Communist Party of China has been producing popular rap songs to promote President Xi Jinping's policies. Screenshot from Youtube.

At the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Chinese president Xi Jinping crystallized his power in China. His ideas are now reflected in China's constitution.

Moving forward, newly-selected Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, an academic-turned-politician, will lead the CCP Publicity Department for further propagating and theorizing Xi's “China Dream” of national revival inside and outside China.

For Xi, ideology is a major weapon in maintaining the legitimacy of the CCP. He has leveraged China's online public sphere as a space for demonstrating and promoting party principles and ideals. All media outlets must plead loyalty to the CCP and more recently, even internet companies have been encouraged to establishes CCP participation among their employees.

The Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China plays a central role in this “ideological front” as it directs the country’s enormous propaganda machine which determines national policies on culture, art and education.

The majority of western media outlets refer to China's ideological battle as “propaganda” but do not explain the complex bureaucracy that builds and maintains this ideological front. Hong Kong-based investigative journalism media The Initium recently published an in-depth report on the transformation of the CCP Publicity Department. Below is a partial translation of the Chinese report.

A Brief History of CCP's Publicity Department

In 1924, when China was divided among former military cliques of the Beiyang Army, Kuomintang and other regional factions, CCP formed a political alliance to end warlordism. This led to the founding of the CCP Publicity Department, the role of which was to publish statements, propose slogans, make flyers, and explain the ideas of Chinese communism within the National Revolutionary Army and to ordinary people during the Northern expedition for China's unification.

During the second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945, when the CCP's Liberation Army established its communist base at Yan'an, former CCP leader Mao Zedong (in leadership position 1943-1976) made use of the first ideological mass movement, the Rectification Movement, to restructure the party newspaper and party magazines and ensure that all publicity work should serve CCP's interest.

With this Mao established a principle of putting politics before journalism, what is now is referred to by historians as “Maoist Journalism”.

In order to control what news could be known by the public, the Publicity Department started issuing internal publications for party officials.

In addition to the duty of explaining and promoting the ideology of Chinese Communism, the department also monitored news opinions, censored publications and guided art creation.

The “Central Culture and Education Team” established in 1958 during the ideological struggle of anti-Rightist Movement was led by the head of Chinese Publicity Department. Apart from the education system, during Mao Zedong's era, the department was headed by the secretary of the CCP central secretariat, a party decision-making and implementation body, and was in charge of sports, healthcare and other non-political work.

During Deng Xiaoping‘s reform era (1979-1987), the power of the Publicity Department was reduced as Deng encouraged a certain degree of media commercialization.

But in 1990s, following the 1989 crackdown on June 4 Tiananmen democratic movement, the Publicity Department came back to the political core. Its leader was a member of the standing committee of CCP's Politburo.

Publicity Department Today

Today, the Publicity Department governs four key areas:

1. Ideology. The department is in charge of the Theory Bureau and the Education Bureau. The two bureaus often publish articles on CCP theories and policies.

2. Culture and arts. The Publicity Department has become the curator of culture and art production. It leads the Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) together with other culture and arts-related official organizations such as China Federation of Literary and Art and China Writers Association.

3. Education and research. The Publicity Department is in charge of the national ideological and political education curriculum. In addition, it controls the humanities and social science research in the country by leading the national philosophy and social science planning team in allocating billions of Chinese Yuan for national social science research. In 2017 alone, there were more than 10 research topic titles that began with “President Xi Jinping's Thought on…”

4. International publicity. The department leads an International Communication Office which is responsible for interacting with foreign media and delivering the Chinese news and policy to the world.

The Publicity Department also invests in “foreign media” such as Nouvelles d'Europe (欧洲时报) and China Times (旺报) to report positively on China among overseas Chinese communities.

In China, all domestic newspapers, periodicals and publishing houses are either government or party affiliated and the Publicity Department can exercise direct supervising power.

The latest development is that the new director of SARFT Nie Chenxi is also the Vice Minister of the Publicity Department. Nie also heads the Cyberspace Administration of China and the Office of the CCP Central Leading Group for Cyberspaces Affairs. This implies that the administration of both conventional and new media answers to the Publicity Department.

Control Over New Media

The rapid growth of mobile internet and social media in recent years has allowed Chinese netizens to be more vocal in their opinions. How has the Publicity Department faced this new challenge?

Since 2012, the clampdown on online media has become the “new normal”. The newly established Cyberspace Administration Office has made use of its censorship power to make sure that the state and party-affiliated media outlets re-establish their leading role in influencing online public opinion.

In June 2017, a large number of entertainment sites on various social media platforms were banned overnight for violating socialist values. Some have millions of followers on WeChat.

The CCP publicity department is in control of censorship power and is capable of using the party's resources to invest in domestic and overseas media outlets. Its tactics have evolved over time and adopted new technologies which made censorship and political interference more efficient and opaque.

It seems that “who ever controls the present, controls the future” is no longer an Orwellian dystopia.

by Guest Contributor at November 12, 2017 07:50 AM

Global Voices
A Look Inside China's Propaganda Bureaucracy
Last October, Xinhua released an English catchy song to explain to foreigner China's 13th five year plan. Image from the video.

The publicity department of the Communist Party of China has been producing popular rap songs to promote President Xi Jinping's policies. Screenshot from Youtube.

At the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Chinese president Xi Jinping crystallized his power in China. His ideas are now reflected in China's constitution.

Moving forward, newly-selected Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, an academic-turned-politician, will lead the CCP Publicity Department for further propagating and theorizing Xi's “China Dream” of national revival inside and outside China.

For Xi, ideology is a major weapon in maintaining the legitimacy of the CCP. He has leveraged China's online public sphere as a space for demonstrating and promoting party principles and ideals. All media outlets must plead loyalty to the CCP and more recently, even internet companies have been encouraged to establishes CCP participation among their employees.

The Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China plays a central role in this “ideological front” as it directs the country’s enormous propaganda machine which determines national policies on culture, art and education.

The majority of western media outlets refer to China's ideological battle as “propaganda” but do not explain the complex bureaucracy that builds and maintains this ideological front. Hong Kong-based investigative journalism media The Initium recently published an in-depth report on the transformation of the CCP Publicity Department. Below is a partial translation of the Chinese report.

A Brief History of CCP's Publicity Department

In 1924, when China was divided among former military cliques of the Beiyang Army, Kuomintang and other regional factions, CCP formed a political alliance to end warlordism. This led to the founding of the CCP Publicity Department, the role of which was to publish statements, propose slogans, make flyers, and explain the ideas of Chinese communism within the National Revolutionary Army and to ordinary people during the Northern expedition for China's unification.

During the second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945, when the CCP's Liberation Army established its communist base at Yan'an, former CCP leader Mao Zedong (in leadership position 1943-1976) made use of the first ideological mass movement, the Rectification Movement, to restructure the party newspaper and party magazines and ensure that all publicity work should serve CCP's interest.

With this Mao established a principle of putting politics before journalism, what is now is referred to by historians as “Maoist Journalism”.

In order to control what news could be known by the public, the Publicity Department started issuing internal publications for party officials.

In addition to the duty of explaining and promoting the ideology of Chinese Communism, the department also monitored news opinions, censored publications and guided art creation.

The “Central Culture and Education Team” established in 1958 during the ideological struggle of anti-Rightist Movement was led by the head of Chinese Publicity Department. Apart from the education system, during Mao Zedong's era, the department was headed by the secretary of the CCP central secretariat, a party decision-making and implementation body, and was in charge of sports, healthcare and other non-political work.

During Deng Xiaoping‘s reform era (1979-1987), the power of the Publicity Department was reduced as Deng encouraged a certain degree of media commercialization.

But in 1990s, following the 1989 crackdown on June 4 Tiananmen democratic movement, the Publicity Department came back to the political core. Its leader was a member of the standing committee of CCP's Politburo.

Publicity Department Today

Today, the Publicity Department governs four key areas:

1. Ideology. The department is in charge of the Theory Bureau and the Education Bureau. The two bureaus often publish articles on CCP theories and policies.

2. Culture and arts. The Publicity Department has become the curator of culture and art production. It leads the Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) together with other culture and arts-related official organizations such as China Federation of Literary and Art and China Writers Association.

3. Education and research. The Publicity Department is in charge of the national ideological and political education curriculum. In addition, it controls the humanities and social science research in the country by leading the national philosophy and social science planning team in allocating billions of Chinese Yuan for national social science research. In 2017 alone, there were more than 10 research topic titles that began with “President Xi Jinping's Thought on…”

4. International publicity. The department leads an International Communication Office which is responsible for interacting with foreign media and delivering the Chinese news and policy to the world.

The Publicity Department also invests in “foreign media” such as Nouvelles d'Europe (欧洲时报) and China Times (旺报) to report positively on China among overseas Chinese communities.

In China, all domestic newspapers, periodicals and publishing houses are either government or party affiliated and the Publicity Department can exercise direct supervising power.

The latest development is that the new director of SARFT Nie Chenxi is also the Vice Minister of the Publicity Department. Nie also heads the Cyberspace Administration of China and the Office of the CCP Central Leading Group for Cyberspaces Affairs. This implies that the administration of both conventional and new media answers to the Publicity Department.

Control Over New Media

The rapid growth of mobile internet and social media in recent years has allowed Chinese netizens to be more vocal in their opinions. How has the Publicity Department faced this new challenge?

Since 2012, the clampdown on online media has become the “new normal”. The newly established Cyberspace Administration Office has made use of its censorship power to make sure that the state and party-affiliated media outlets re-establish their leading role in influencing online public opinion.

In June 2017, a large number of entertainment sites on various social media platforms were banned overnight for violating socialist values. Some have millions of followers on WeChat.

The CCP publicity department is in control of censorship power and is capable of using the party's resources to invest in domestic and overseas media outlets. Its tactics have evolved over time and adopted new technologies which made censorship and political interference more efficient and opaque.

It seems that “who ever controls the present, controls the future” is no longer an Orwellian dystopia.

by Jimmy Wu at November 12, 2017 07:41 AM

November 11, 2017

Doc Searls
A miracle of flight

That was the view to the south from 31,000 feet above the center of Greenland a few hours ago: a late afternoon aurora over a blue dusk. According to my little hand-held GPS, we were around here: “11/10/17, 11:48:32 AM” “2.4 mi” “0:00:16” “538 mph” “30072 ft” “283° true” “N70° 56′ 10.4″ W38° 52′ 59.1″”That’s about four degrees north of the arctic circle.

The flight was Air New Zealand 1, and that same plane is now en route to Auckland from Los Angeles, where I got off before driving home to Santa Barbara, where I am now, absolutely fucking amazed that we take this amazing grace of civilized life deeply for granted.

Here’s another amazing thing: we were also inside the auroral oval, which at the moment maps like this—

Normally on transatlantic flights between Europe and the U.S., one looks north at the aurora, but in this case I was looking south, because we veered north to avoid headwinds on the direct route, which would have taken us over the southern end of greenland, right under that aurora. The whole flight was close to 12 hours, went in a large crescent loop, and at the end had us coming at Los Angeles roughly from Seattle:

(The map is via FlightAware. Details from that same page: Actual: 5,859 mi; Planned: 5,821 mi; Direct: 5,449 mi. In other words, we flew 410 extra miles to avoid the headwinds. Here is the route in aviation code: YNY KS21G KS81E KS72E 4108N/12141W HYP AVE.)

Get this: I knew that would roughly be our path just by first looking at Windy.com, which shows winds at all elevations a plane might fly. (That link is to Windy’s current air flow map between London and Los Angeles at 34,000 feet.)

Even after flying millions of miles as a passenger, it still blows my mind what one can see out the window of a plane.

 

 

by Doc Searls at November 11, 2017 08:27 AM

Global Voices
Female-Run Restaurant Bends Back Social Barriers in Pakistan's Quetta

Hamida Ali Hazara, her staff and some patrons at the Hazara Restaurant in Hazara Town, Quetta. Hamida is standing fourth from the left. Photo shared on Hamida Ali Hazara's Facebook. Permission to reuse.

Restaurants aren’t a rare sight in Hazara town, a middle-income neighborhood in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, but there’s one that has caught the attention of many. Subtle in its splendor, the eatery's interior features traditional Hazaragi decorations and a poster of a giant Buddha. More unusual, however, is the fact that the restaurant is run and staffed exclusively by women.

The Hazara minorities are Hazaragi/Dari speaking people. Hazaras have continued to face regular persecution since they escaped ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan and migrated to neighboring countries including Iran and Pakistan.

Most ethnically Hazara people are religiously Shiite Muslims. Hazara Restaurant opened its doors to women and families looking for quality time in Quetta, the administrative capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, earlier this summer.

Hamida Ali Hazara, who comes from the marginalized minority, is the driving force behind the bustling restaurant, whose small menu features mostly authentic Pakistani delicacies like biryani (generally made with spices, rice and meat), karhai (stew, made with meat), kebab and fresh-squeezed juices.

The newly-created space is also used for business conferences, gatherings, wedding parties and birthday celebrations. Hazara Restaurant employs six women in total.

‘I will not stop because of what people think’

Hamida Ali Hazara, who is also a social and political activist, is perhaps best known as the founder of the Hurmat-e Niswa Foundation (HNF), which enables Hazara women to improve their lives through health, education, and sports. HNF has helped dozens of Hazara girls receive scholarships to study at universities in Pakistan's major cities Lahore and Karachi.

Shattering a glass ceiling or two in the business world was perhaps the next logical step for an uncompromising trailblazer. But as a single woman in a deeply patriarchal region, getting a foothold in the male-dominated hospitality industry was fraught with challenges.

“Some friends and relatives within my close circle mocked and ridiculed my choice of business,” Hamida Ali Hazara recalled in a phone interview with Global Voices.

“They said things behind my back. But I will not throw my efforts into a sponge. I will not stop because of what people think.”

So far, the rewards have outweighed the hardship. At lunchtimes and in the evenings, the restaurant can struggle to accommodate the flow of patrons. Even more pleasingly, is the change Hamida Ali Hazara has witnessed  in her close-knit staff.

“One of the employees, at first, was quiet and melancholic. [She said] that due to financial problems she could not continue her studies. She had nearly given up at that point. But the restaurant has helped her to keep going. I feel happy for her,” she said.

Quetta at night. Image originally posted to Flickr by Beluchistan. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Just as education is a goal for her employees, Hamida Ali Hazara believes it is also the main reason that, eventually, initiatives like hers will gather wider acceptance in the community. Illustrating her point, a local bakery in Quetta published last month what might well be the city's first ever job advertisement targeting skilled women specifically.

“Times have changed,” explains Hamida Ali Hazara. “Years ago, women’s lives were limited to the four walls of the house in Hazara Town, but it is no longer the case now. Education is changing the mindset of women.”

A safe haven in a dangerous world

One ill that continues to cast a shadow over businesses in Quetta, especially those owned by Hazaras, is insecurity. As recently as October 9, Pakistani media reported, three Hazara were among five killed in a gun attack police characterized as sectarian.

The October tragedy brought scores of bereaved Hazaras onto the thoroughfare of Mizan Chowk in Quetta to protest against increasing violence towards their group. As in Afghanistan, Shiite Muslim Hazaras are regularly targeted by extremists in Pakistan that view them as heretics.

Fears over potential violence encourage the group to set up businesses in neighborhoods like Hazara Town, where they form a majority. The pioneering founder of Hazara Restaurant chose Aliabad road as a location to set up shop rather than the packed bazaar, primarily for safety reasons.

But if the world outside continues to pose dangers and problems, Hazara Restaurant itself is a sanctuary. Here Hamida Ali Hazara and her community can discuss, organize and feel at ease. By all accounts, the food is pretty tasty, too.

by Maisam Iltaf at November 11, 2017 05:16 AM

Toxic Smog in New Delhi Leaves Residents Coughing and Demanding Action

A foggy morning in Dhaula Kuan, Delhi. Image via Flickr by Oatsy40. CC BY 2.0

Over the last few days, India's political capital, New Delhi, has witnessed toxic smog engulf the city, threatening a break-out of major respiratory ailments.

In response, the government has shut down schools and declared a public health emergency, but criticism is building that authorities aren't doing enough to solve the situation.

There have been increasing instances of smog engulfing many parts of North India just before the winter in recent years. 2017, however, has seen the problem worsen dramatically. The photos below, uploaded by Twitter user @gandabherunda, illustrates how thick the smog was at the end of October.

According to the US Embassy air pollution tracker in New Delhi, the levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) reached 703 on November 7, 2017, which is far above 300, the mark when air is deemed as hazardous. The World Health Organization says sustained exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 can cause respiratory diseases, inflammation of the lungs, and even heart problems.

To compare, New Delhi's smog beats Beijing's infamous pollution, according to reports, as the carcinogenic pollutants in the city's air are ten times the reading in the Chinese capital.

‘Delhi has become a gas chamber’

The capital's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, took to social media, terming the megacity of 20 million people as a “gas chamber” and blamed the pandemic to crop burning in neighboring Indian states:

Garbage fires and factory emissions are said to contribute to the problem, too. This augured by low wind speeds and low temperatures make the problem worse and are having a negative impact on residents’ health.

According to the UK newspaper the Guardian, doctors in New Delhi have claimed half their patients suffering from lung cancer are non-smokers. Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at the medical facility told the Guardian:

In the last two years, half my lung cancer patients have been non-smokers. I am seeing a peak in people aged in their 40s, even people in their 30s. Our cancers are occurring earlier, more in non-smokers, and more in females.”

The World Health Organization meanwhile has named Delhi the world's most polluted mega-city, beating Cairo, Mumbai, and Kolkata. And according to international medical journal, Lancet, air pollution has claimed as many as 2.5 million Indian people in 2015.

Many citizens have taken to Twitter to express their disdain. The #SmogInDelhi hashtag was trending for a while. Journalist Annie Gowen wrote:

Journalist Aman Sharma expressed concern over the perceived lack of action to solve the problem:

Many have complained about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government's silence over the smog issue:

Blogger Shivam Vij wrote for Quartz:

Headlines even in the international press have been telling for years that India has the worst air quality in the world. The planet’s most polluted cities are concentrated in this country. You’d think prime minister Narendra Modi would at least want to be seen as doing something about this, if not actually doing something. He hasn’t said a word.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India banned burning firecrackers during Diwali festivals in New Delhi because of the pollution they cause. Rafiul Rehman observed on Facebook:

Can't believe it's been close to a month since Diwali and  Delhi is still so polluted! There is smog everywhere. I suddenly feel I am on a different planet. I want to go back to Assam now! Sigh.

The court's ruling was seen as a “communal” one by right-wing groups, who in response distributed firecrackers. One netizen called them out for their behavior:

‘No one is doing anything about it’

Journalist Mayank Austen Soofi, in his photo blog, chronicled the catastrophic Delhi smog. You can check the blog here. A comment under the blog reads:

I have been coughing for over a month, and it is only a week or so back, that I realised that it’s because of the pollution. It’s terrible. It can be brought down, but no one is doing anything about it.

While Anuradha Sengupta urged on Facebook for people who are able to take more personal responsibility in their consumption habits:

Don't understand this – helpless many? Give up the car (or do not buy multiple cars), stop so much consumption, shut down factories. … but most people do not want to make changes to their lifestyle. The people who are lowest down the ladder, who have to live (and work) in the open on the roads – they are suffering the most. And of course, the creatures who are not humans – who are probably dying by the droves without being accounted for.

For some like daily laborers and rickshaw drivers, smog is a daily problem affecting their health:

Other users took a darkly humorous route to describe the smog:

Tuberculosis patients aren't safe in Delhi, as this journalist noted:

People are attempting to leave Delhi but air ticket prices have skyrocketed:

And Atishi Marlena emphasized that the smog problem goes beyond New Delhi:

The Delhi government has decided to reintroduce the Odd-Even nameplate traffic rule from 8 am to 8 pm in the national capital from November 13-17. Under this rule, private vehicles are allowed to run based on the last number of their license plates. The system was first implemented in Beijing in 2008 just before the summer Olympics and was tried in 2015 and 2016 in Delhi.

According to Shivam VJ, this may not be the answer as “the main cause of pollution is road dust and farm fires, but even within vehicular pollution, it is trucks and two-wheelers.”

by Vishal Manve at November 11, 2017 01:44 AM

November 10, 2017

Global Voices
Amid the Vast Universe of the ‘Valerian’ Movie, Ukraine Gets a Special Shout-Out

Photoshopped screenshot from the sci-fi film “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” with cosmonauts wearing the Ukrainian flag as shoulder sleeve insignia, shared on social networks.

The presence of the Ukrainian flag on the sleeve of an astronaut in the movie “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has created a small sensation among Ukrainian social media users.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the most recent French science fiction film by acclaimed director Luc Besson. It was released in July and possibly still runs in some theaters across the world. It's based on a long-running comics series Valérian (1967-2010) by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.

The opening scenes of the film introduce the history of the fictional universe, including the construction of the giant space station Alpha, which was completed by adding spaceship hulls from Earth and alien cultures onto the International Space Station of today.

Viewers are shown the arrival of a Ukrainian cosmonaut crew lead by a woman with the flag on her sleeve, delighting Ukrainian sci-fi fans and prompting tributes.

For instance, the animation above combines the scene featuring the fictional Ukrainian cosmonaut, who shakes another character's hand, and the 2014 hit song “Podaj Rękę Ukrainie” (literally “Extend your hand to Ukraine,” or “Give Ukraine A Helping Hand”) by the Polish band Taraka. That song was inspired by the Euromaidan protests of 2013 and 2014 against the abuses of the Ukrainian government under President Viktor Yanukovych, and used to raise donations for the families of protesters who were killed by snipers and other violence. It's considered a symbol of Polish-Ukrainian solidarity.

Some of the online discussions also cleared up some misconceptions held by enthusiastic movie fans.

Tweet 1: In Luc Beson's film “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”, the delegation from Earth is represented by Ukraine. Cosmonauts wear our flag on arm patches.
Tweet 2: No. There are delegations from Iran, African countries, and so on. There's no “Earth” delegation. The station itself is Russian.

In fact, this correction is only partly true. The International Space Station is a joint project of the space agencies of the USA (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Japan (JAXA), Canada (CSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

State Space Agency of Ukraine logo. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.

Besides science fiction, Ukraine indeed runs an actual space program, which started in 1930s. The State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU), established in 1992, is one of the descendants of the Soviet space program, and inherited all its installations in the country. Until 2014 it conducted launches from Kazakhstan and Russia. After Russia annexed Crimea, the SSAU sends satellites to space via the multinational Sea Launch‘s floating platform.

While a number of Ukrainians served as Soviet cosmonauts, the first Ukrainian to fly in space under the Ukrainian flag was Leonid K. Kadenyuk on 13 May 1997.

by Filip Stojanovski at November 10, 2017 08:41 PM

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