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.

July 02, 2016

Global Voices
Thai Activists Use Toys, Balloons and Dolls to Campaign for Democracy
A 'toy protest' in front of a Bangkok prison where anti-Junta activists have been detained by the police for distributing flyers. Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

A ‘toy protest’ in front of a Bangkok prison where anti-Junta activists have been detained by the police for distributing flyers. Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

Thai activists are getting more creative in their campaign to reject the proposed charter of the military-backed government.

After the arrest of more than a dozen activists who were merely distributing flyers about the charter, several groups across the country launched various types of activities to dramatize the call for democracy such as using toys and dolls to ‘speak’ for freedom and releasing balloons with a printed message that reads ‘campaigning is not a crime’.

The Thai army staged a coup in 2014 and has remained in power despite its pledge to restore civilian rule once it implemented political and economic reforms. It has drafted a charter which will be subject to a nationwide referendum on August. Activists and political parties describe the proposed charter as a threat to democracy because it allegedly contains provisions that will expand the authoritarian powers of the military.

Since 2014, protests and the gathering of five or more persons have been outlawed in Thailand. Recently, the Junta prohibited groups from campaigning for or against the charter and the upcoming referendum.

The police invoked these laws when they arrested members of the New Democracy Movement (NDM) who were caught distributing statements against the charter.

Some supporters of the NDM visited the detained activists while carrying pink balloons with the message “campaigning is not a crime.” Authorities confiscated the balloons.

This inspired students from Chiang Mai University to release purple balloons in support of the right of the people to speak about the charter.

Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

The message in the balloon reads "campaigning is not a crime'. Photo from the Facebook page of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

The message in the balloon reads “campaigning is not a crime’. Photo from the Facebook page of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

Photo from the Facebook page of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

Photo from the Facebook page of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy – LACMUD

Activists from south Thailand also used purple balloons in their protest. The police briefly detained the protesters. Photo from the Facebook page of Min Law

Activists from south Thailand also used purple balloons in their protest. The police briefly detained the protesters. Photo from the Facebook page of Min Law

Free Dolls for Freedom

Meanwhile, the Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy initiated the ‘Free Dolls for FREEDOM: Let dolls speak for us’ campaign, which enjoins the public to share their views about the referendum and the charter by posting photos of dolls and toys. The campaign aims to demonstrate the injustice of the law, which prohibits the public from campaigning against the policies of the Junta. The campaign can be monitored through the hashtag #FreeDollsForFREEDOM.

The 'Little Prince' advocates the right of Thais to speak about the proposed charter and the referendum. Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

The ‘Little Prince’ advocates the right of Thais to speak about the proposed charter and the referendum. Photo from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

Image from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

Image from the Facebook page of Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy

by Mong Palatino at July 02, 2016 12:16 AM

July 01, 2016

Global Voices
Technology, Engineering and Incredible Discoveries Mark the Panama Canal Expansion
Canal de Panamá, imagen en Flickr del usuario Jose Jiménez (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Panama Canal, image on Flickr by user Jose Jiménez (CC BY-SA 2.0).

On June 26, 2016, a day that Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela described as “historic for the nation,” the expansion of the Panama Canal on the Atlantic Panamanian coast was inaugurated in the capital and in several provinces amidst national flags and the sound of music played by students and bands.

The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean at the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama. It has a total length of 77 miles and was originally inaugurated on August 15, 1914. For over a hundred years this short and fairly cheap key conduit has sped up the economic and commercial exchange in the region. The recently opened expansion project took around ten years to complete.

Chinese vessel Cosco Shipping Panama was the first ship that sailed through the newly extended Panama Canal, thus opening traffic into the new locks at Agua Clara at the Atlantic watershed.

According to the official Panama Canal website, the decision to build a third transit lane came after thorough studies and analysis and it aimed to double its capacity. The website also shows the progress of the expansion program with graphics and includes photos and videos.

On Twitter, users celebrated this new phase of the canal, which has shortened distances in the American continent. Some talked about the next project, whatever that may be:

Go, Panama. Let's plan now the next mega-project. The transisthmus train from Bocas to Darien and reinvent cities.

Some others compared realities from different eras:

The Panama Canal I visited is now a tiny little canal compared to what's being inaugurated today.

There are also images of the Cosco Shipping Panama, the first ship that went through the expanded Canal:

A local outlet posted a video showing people gathered there, and the BBC recalled how the Canal changed the world:

People at Cocolí waiting to witness Cosco Shipping Panama sailing through the expanded Canal.

Five things that changed in the world with the Panama Canal.

Hidden treasures

During the decade the Panama Canal expansion works were taking place, more than 2,200 different archeological objects were found and classified, thus telling the commercial history of the isthmus of Panama since pre-Columbian times:

Dientes, dagas, chimeneas, restos de puentes y cementerios abandonados por las compañías de Francia y Estados Unidos a principios del siglo pasado, evidencian el papel de tránsito humano que ha tenido Panamá.

Teeth, daggers, chimneys, remains of bridges and cemeteries abandoned by French and American firms at the beginning of the last century show the role that Panama has had in human transit.

Tomás Mendizábal, the man responsible for classifying the items found during the various stages of the expansion process, said, “I find it odd, […] incredible, to dig in a little village lost in the middle of the Panama jungle and find European products along with handicrafts from Mexico.”

Since 2014, some media outlets have covered the amazing archaeological treasures that were emerging from the mountains of removed soil in the working area:

Durante las excavaciones, voladura de cerros y tala de espesa vegetación, se han hallado fósiles de unos 3.000 invertebrados y 500 vertebrados, y de más de 250 plantas, como las de un bosque consumido por el fuego de una explosión volcánica, precisó Hortensia Broce [bióloga especialista en paleontología de la Autoridad del Canal].
[…] también salieron fragmentos de objetos de la época precolombina, colonial, departamental […] y republicana […]. Trozos de vasijas de cerámica, puntas de flecha y parte de un ajuar funerario precolombino, una daga del siglo XVI, una chimenea de 1908, una colección de botellas, vagones y cubos para mezclar concreto de la época de construcción del Canal, aparecieron en zonas del Pacífico y el Atlántico.

During the digging, mountain blasting and clearing of thick vegetation, about 3,000 invertebrate and 500 vertebrate fossils were found, and also over 250 plants from a forest consumed by fire of a volcanic explosion, pointed out Hortensia Broce [biologist, specialist in Paleontology of the Canal Authority].
[…] fragments of objects from pre-Columbian, colonial, departmental […] and republican times […] also emerged. Bits of ceramic pots, arrowheads, and parts of a pre-Columbian grave, a 16-century dagger, a chimney from 1908, a collection of bottles, wagons and buckets for mixing concrete dating from the time when the Canal was built, were found both in the Pacific and Atlantic areas.

In 2009, fossil teeth of Central American primates appeared as well. Jonathan Bloch, leader of the University of Florida team that investigated this finding, commented:

[…] estos son los dientes de un mono de Sudamérica que, de alguna manera, logró hacer lo que ningún otro animal pudo hacer en aquella época: cruzar la vía marítima de Centroamérica hacia la Norteamérica tropical hace 21 millones de años.

[…] these are the teeth of a South American monkey that, somehow, managed to achieve what no other animal was able to do back then: cross the Central American water route to tropical North America, some 21 million of years ago.

Also on Twitter were photos and videos of the findings that have emerged during the expansion works:

Archaeological treasures were found during expansion of Panama Canal.

The archaeological treasures found in the historic “trash” of the Panama Canal.

A tour around some of the archeological findings of the expansion of the Panama Canal, such as bottles, weapons…

by Gabriela García Calderón at July 01, 2016 08:27 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Telegram Bug Leaks Russian TV News Station's Internal Chats to Random User
Telegram confronts a curious bug problem. Image by Kevin Rothrock.

Telegram confronts a curious bug problem. Image by Kevin Rothrock.

A Russian Telegram user has reported receiving strange notifications from Telegram chats she was never a member of. The unsolicited messenger notifications have, among other things, allowed the user to follow the internal chat of the social media team of the Russian independent channel TV Rain. How and why did this happen? And what does it say about Telegram's supposedly secure systems for communication?

TJournal reports that Telegram user Anna Gorbacheva bought a used iPhone from an acquaintance in November 2015. While they did not do a factory reset, the previous owner logged out of all her social media accounts and the iCloud. At first, the new phone worked perfectly.

But a month later, the strange notifications began to appear on her screen:

A screencap from Anna's iPhone showing the notifications from the TV Rain SMM chat and her unsuccessful attempts to send a message back. Image from tjournal.ru.

Left: A screencap from Anna's iPhone showing the notifications from the TV Rain SMM chat on her lock screen. Right: A screencap of her unsuccessful attempt to send a message back. Image via tjournal.ru.

Concerned that she was unintentionally eavesdropping on other peoples’ private conversations, she wrote to Telegram. She told TJournal:

В январе на заблокированном экране всплыло сообщение из какой-то беседы, в которой я не состою. Я удивилась и открыла Telegram. Чат не отображался, хотя уведомления продолжали поступать. Написала в поддержку, приложив скриншоты.

In January, I saw a message on my lockscreen from a conversation I was never a part of. I was surprised and opened my Telegram. The chat wouldn't show up, even though the notifications of new messages kept coming. So I wrote to support, and sent some screenshots.

Telegram's support did not reply, so Anna simply deleted Telegram altogether. But recently, she needed the messenger for her work at an advertising agency, so she set it up again. And the notifications returned.

As previously, Anna could see the notifications for messages, but could not access the chats themselves. Her attempts to send her own messages to the chats failed. And there were no signs that other chat participants had any idea an outsider was watching their conversations. At TJournal's request, Anna even recorded a video with proof of the unsolicited notifications.

The most recent notifications came from a Telegram chat called “SMM” (short for “social media management”), and having spotted a few names (such as Ilya Klishyn, Aleksey Abanin, and Daniil Zubov), Anna soon realized she was now privy to the internal social media discussion of the TV Rain editorial team. She also noticed that the links to stories discussed in the chat would quickly appear on the TV Rain's Twitter, Facebook, and VKontakte pages.

When contacted by TJournal, Telegram's founder Pavel Durov acknowledged the issue was a software bug, but speculated that Anna must have gotten her phone from a friend who previously worked for TV Rain and had access to the chat. Anna denies her friend has ever had any connection to TV Rain.

She told TJournal that since buying the phone, she never gave anyone else access to it and that her Telegram account was the only one that ever logged in on the device.

Can users trust Telegram?

Telegram boasts secure communications, however security experts have questioned the robustness of its cryptography. Apart from “rolling its own crypto” instead of relying on existing encryption solutions, there is the matter of device dependence. By default, Telegram uses text-based authorization, which allows users to connect new devices to Telegram accounts simply by entering a verification code received via text message on a smartphone. Two-step verification can be enabled, but is not required.

But these known elements of Telegram's systems do not fully explain why Gorbacheva, whose device had seemingly never belonged to anyone associated with TV Rain, suddenly began receiving notifications of their private messages. Gorbacheva's experience suggests that Telegram's security flaws may be worse than critics previously thought.

Anna is at a loss as to how or why she is able to see the messages from a chat to which she does not actually have access. Repeated entreaties for help finally got Anna a response from the Telegram support service. They told her to exit out of all active sessions of the messenger. But that did not help, and Anna continues to receive strange notifications in her Telegram app.

When TJournal investigated the matter further, it turned out that changing accounts and logging in after another user had logged out was a common Telegram bug: Several different users reported gaining access to contacts and messages from those whose accounts were previously active on their devices, after those users had logged out. Short of deleting their newly set up accounts from the devices and from Telegram wholesale and losing all user data, there was no ways to resolve the privacy issue.

Founder Pavel Durov says Telegram is now deleting the cache of old user data when faced with this issue, but users who met with the problem before the bug became official, are on their own. Anna is still receiving notifications about the social media routine of TV Rain, despite having logged out of all active sessions of Telegram. Telegram said her best option would have been to do ao factory reset on the phone after the previous owner had logged out of her account.

So what do you do if your Telegram suddenly starts spewing unsolicited notifications or showing strange contacts? Durov says the only sure-fire solution is to deactivate your Telegram account by opening this link directly in the messenger, which will make all your chat logs and files disappear.

Telegram said the messenger “is not meant to be used on other people's devices,” hence the contact list merging reported by some users. One user was advised by the messenger's support service to “only use your own account on your own devices,” basically acknowledging the messenger's dependence on hardware. But the messages from strange chatrooms that Anna has reported remain a mystery. And Telegram's reputation as a secure messaging app hangs in the balance.

by Tetyana Lokot at July 01, 2016 06:29 PM

Global Voices
The Week That Was at Global Voices Podcast: Brexit, Brexit Everywhere

This week we take you to Brazil, Russia and Tanzania. We also speak with Global Voices Caribbean editor Janine Mendes-Franco about the reaction to Brexit in her region and with Global Voices contributor Arzu Geybulla about the inequality and social injustice that lies behind the glitz and glamour in Azerbaijan.

Many thanks to all our authors, translators and editors who helped make this possible. This episode features stories by Amanda LichtensteinKevin RothrockFernanda CanofreJanine Mendes-Franco and Arzu Geybulla.

In this episode of the Week that Was at Global Voices, we featured Creative Commons licensed music from the Free Music Archive, including Please Listen Carefully by Jahzzar; It Always Rains in England by Ergo PhizmizAnxiety by Kai EngelCamera-Eye by happiness in aeroplanes; Linger by David Szesztay; and False Note by VYVCH.

Image used in SoundCloud thumbnail is a meme shared widely on Caribbean social media.

by Sahar Habib Ghazi at July 01, 2016 06:22 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Massive Nude Photo Leak Raises Issue of Online Protection Laws in Trinidad & Tobago
Online data privacy protection and government surveillance have become key issues following the leak of hundreds of nude photos of Trinidadian women and girls. Image by Perspecsys Photos, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Online data privacy protection and government surveillance have become key issues following the leak of hundreds of nude photos of Trinidadian women and girls. Image by Perspecsys Photos, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Trinidad and Tobago has found itself in embroiled in a scandal involving hundreds of nude photos of young Trinidadian women and girls being circulated online and through mobile apps. Police suspect it is part of an online pornography ring, and that some of the photographs are being sold.

The leak allegedly affected women and girls who shared their photos with people they trusted. The photos were subsequently shared with an online database. One victim said that her face was photoshopped onto another woman's body. Those affected have come together and formed a revenge porn support group and some have told their stories to the media.

The country's Children's Act advocates imprisonment for those convicted of making, distributing and even accessing child pornography online. For adults affected, the consequences are less clear. At least according to one lawyer, remedy for adults may be limited to civil lawsuits.

Colouring online discussions about the scandal has been the commentary of controversial temporary independent senator Dr. Kriyaan Singh. (Singh was acting for senator David Small, who was abroad, but has since returned to his post.) In an initial Facebook post about the issue, Singh wrote that he “fully support[s] nudity”:

Be proud of your sexiness and to ass with the low life scums who share nudes of others to these sites. Just remember being naked online privately is not illegal and it is never a grounds for dismissal

In another Facebook post, which was public, he offered to help the women and girls:

To all the ladies on the list.
Please form yourself into a group. Record
Name
Age
When you took the pics
How you took it
Who took it
What method you sent it on
WHO YOU SENT IT TO including relationship
IF YOU SENT YOUR DEVICE TO REPAIR, date and where
If you all form a group I am willing to assist in whatever way I can through my support from attorneys to deal with the scums bags who did this and whoever is the idiot who started the website
You all seriously have my full support.

He later provided this update:

So my simple investigation in speaking with several of the girls on the list, some who are still under age revealed that they each only sent pics to one person.
That narrows it down to who started sharing their private photos without their consent on triniporn
Ladies if you are friends with them and have been asked for pics please state so now and take action

Singh also offered an avenue for them to tell their story anonymously:

If any of the girls on the porn list would like to anonymously speak to the media please message me. One reporter is interested in their side of the story

While he has his supporters, Singh has been criticised by political and civil society groups, including Fixin’ T&T, which argued that the former senator's social media posts — both on this issue and on others — do not carry the spirit of impartiality that independents are supposed to embody.

And they aren't the only ones. Writer and political blogger/commentator Rhoda Bharath wrote to the country's president asking him to revoke Singh's appointment, explaining:

I, along with other right thinking citizens, have observed a disturbing trend in the comments and posts made by Dr Singh on social media. I have attached for your perusal several screen shots of posts or comments that appear to be either politically charged, ethnically prejudiced or sexist in nature, if not openly derogatory.

There was also an online petition circulating in an effort to have Singh removed on the grounds that he is not impartial and “continues to display an attitude of disrespect on social media that is unbecoming”. Yet, attorney Justin Phelps, in a public Facebook post, cautioned:

That's a dangerous road because it means that anything not packaged according to our colonial threshold for decent is also incompetent.

Scandal fans flames of online privacy debate

The leak once again raises questions about online privacy and sexuality — an issue Trinidad and Tobago has grappled with in the context of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill, which would give the authorities more crime detection power by expanding the scope of the country's Strategic Service Agency to include serious offences such as homicide, terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and cybercrime. Currently, the Act focuses primarily on drug-related crimes.

The bill passed in the Senate in early May and was finally approved by the president; it now awaits proclamation in order to take effect.

​The country's opposition — and some independent senators — voted against the bill, arguing that it would infringe privacy. The country's Chamber of Commerce also had concerns about checks and balances for the process. The amendment will make it much easier for the SSA to engage in information-gathering through certain types of telecommunications surveillance.

Many people send nude or sexually explicit images of themselves which they intend to be private — as was the case here — so the SSA Act is timely. Netizens are interested in how it will deal with technology and treat these kind of privacy infringements. Even when the SSA Act is finally proclaimed, the law will not be made retroactive.

Readers who are worried about the privacy of their online communications should know that any photo posted online — be it on social networks or mailing lists — can be found, downloaded, redistributed and tampered with using software like Photoshop. Once it is posted or sent, netizens need to understand that they no longer have control over where it might go. The best ways to share anything private, including naked pictures, is to use end-to-end encrypted messengers such as Signal, or encrypted email solutions like Tutanota or Proton Mail.

Learn about these and other privacy solutions with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Surveillance Self-Defense guide, which is now available in eleven languages.

by Advox at July 01, 2016 06:16 PM

Global Voices
Massive Nude Photo Leak Raises Issue of Online Protection Laws in Trinidad & Tobago
Online data privacy protection and government surveillance have become key issues following the leak of hundreds of nude photos of Trinidadian women and girls. Image by Perspecsys Photos, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Online data privacy protection and government surveillance have become key issues following the leak of hundreds of nude photos of Trinidadian women and girls. Image by Perspecsys Photos, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Trinidad and Tobago has found itself in embroiled in a scandal involving hundreds of nude photos of young Trinidadian women and girls being circulated online and through mobile apps. Police suspect it is part of an online pornography ring, and that some of the photographs are being sold.

The leak allegedly affected women and girls who shared their photos with people they trusted. The photos were subsequently shared with an online database. One victim said that her face was photoshopped onto another woman's body. Those affected have come together and formed a revenge porn support group and some have told their stories to the media.

The country's Children's Act advocates imprisonment for those convicted of making, distributing and even accessing child pornography online. For adults affected, the consequences are less clear. At least according to one lawyer, remedy for adults may be limited to civil lawsuits.

Colouring online discussions about the scandal has been the commentary of controversial temporary independent senator Dr. Kriyaan Singh. (Singh was acting for senator David Small, who was abroad, but has since returned to his post.) In an initial Facebook post about the issue, Singh wrote that he “fully support[s] nudity”:

Be proud of your sexiness and to ass with the low life scums who share nudes of others to these sites. Just remember being naked online privately is not illegal and it is never a grounds for dismissal

In another Facebook post, which was public, he offered to help the women and girls:

To all the ladies on the list.
Please form yourself into a group. Record
Name
Age
When you took the pics
How you took it
Who took it
What method you sent it on
WHO YOU SENT IT TO including relationship
IF YOU SENT YOUR DEVICE TO REPAIR, date and where
If you all form a group I am willing to assist in whatever way I can through my support from attorneys to deal with the scums bags who did this and whoever is the idiot who started the website
You all seriously have my full support.

He later provided this update:

So my simple investigation in speaking with several of the girls on the list, some who are still under age revealed that they each only sent pics to one person.
That narrows it down to who started sharing their private photos without their consent on triniporn
Ladies if you are friends with them and have been asked for pics please state so now and take action

Singh also offered an avenue for them to tell their story anonymously:

If any of the girls on the porn list would like to anonymously speak to the media please message me. One reporter is interested in their side of the story

While he has his supporters, Singh has been criticised by political and civil society groups, including Fixin’ T&T, which argued that the former senator's social media posts — both on this issue and on others — do not carry the spirit of impartiality that independents are supposed to embody.

And they aren't the only ones. Writer and political blogger/commentator Rhoda Bharath wrote to the country's president asking him to revoke Singh's appointment, explaining:

I, along with other right thinking citizens, have observed a disturbing trend in the comments and posts made by Dr Singh on social media. I have attached for your perusal several screen shots of posts or comments that appear to be either politically charged, ethnically prejudiced or sexist in nature, if not openly derogatory.

There was also an online petition circulating in an effort to have Singh removed on the grounds that he is not impartial and “continues to display an attitude of disrespect on social media that is unbecoming”. Yet, attorney Justin Phelps, in a public Facebook post, cautioned:

That's a dangerous road because it means that anything not packaged according to our colonial threshold for decent is also incompetent.

Scandal fans flames of online privacy debate

The leak once again raises questions about online privacy and sexuality — an issue Trinidad and Tobago has grappled with in the context of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill, which would give the authorities more crime detection power by expanding the scope of the country's Strategic Service Agency to include serious offences such as homicide, terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and cybercrime. Currently, the Act focuses primarily on drug-related crimes.

The bill passed in the Senate in early May and was finally approved by the president; it now awaits proclamation in order to take effect.

​The country's opposition — and some independent senators — voted against the bill, arguing that it would infringe privacy. The country's Chamber of Commerce also had concerns about checks and balances for the process. The amendment will make it much easier for the SSA to engage in information-gathering through certain types of telecommunications surveillance.

Many people send nude or sexually explicit images of themselves which they intend to be private — as was the case here — so the SSA Act is timely. Netizens are interested in how it will deal with technology and treat these kind of privacy infringements. Even when the SSA Act is finally proclaimed, the law will not be made retroactive.

Readers who are worried about the privacy of their online communications should know that any photo posted online — be it on social networks or mailing lists — can be found, downloaded, redistributed and tampered with using software like Photoshop. Once it is posted or sent, netizens need to understand that they no longer have control over where it might go. The best ways to share anything private, including naked pictures, is to use end-to-end encrypted messengers such as Signal, or encrypted email solutions like Tutanota or Proton Mail.

Learn about these and other privacy solutions with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Surveillance Self-Defense guide, which is now available in eleven languages.

by Flora Thomas at July 01, 2016 06:12 PM

Why Everyone in Madagascar Is Making Jokes About Pineapple
I am #Pineapple via Mirana (with permission)

Je suis pineapple, or I am pineapple. Via Mirana (with permission)

When it comes to memes, pineapple is the new orange, at least in Madagascar.

Social media in Madagascar has become quite pineapple-flavored over the past few days. Why the sudden fervor for the spiky fruit? Here is a bit of context on the current social situation on the Red Island.

Madagascar came up as the world's poorest country in one of the poverty indices published by the World Bank (and reported by media outlets such as Radio France Internationale). The criticism of the economic status of the country did not sit well with the president of Madagascar. He challenged observers, local media and citizens to “provide evidence that the country was getting poorer.”

Malagasy netizens quickly obliged in a biting manner:

Is this graph here not enough evidence Mr President ? #Madagascar #WASH

Koolsaina, a Malagasy community blog, posted the following photo on its website:

Malagasy citizens going through trash pile ups in Antananarivo via koolsaina

Malagasy citizens going through trash pile ups in Antananarivo. Via Koolsaina

Following that first tense exchange between the president and Malagasy netizens, another Malagasy community website, Tananews, posted a photo of First Lady Voahangy Rajaonarimampianina wearing a a green dress with a pineapple motif on the front:

President and first lady at independence day ceremony via Tananews

The Malagasy president and the first lady at an independence day ceremony. Via Tananews

Tananews added a link and a comment with a hint of sarcasm that said, “Indeed, not everyone is poor in Madagascar.” The link showed that the dress was probably designed by high-end clothing brand Dolce & Gabana that sold for US $7,745 on the website of department store Nieman Marcus (it is unclear whether that is the actually cost of the dress that the first lady was wearing).

The outrage was swift on the Malagasy web. A flurry of memes with the hashtag #mananasy (pineapple) appeared within days on various Malagasy websites and social media. Here are a few memes that were widely shared:

Spoof of a Marc Zuckerberg profile wondering about pineapple in Madagascar (with permission)

Spoof of Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg's profile wondering about pineapples in Madagascar. The meme reads, ” Do you know how to wear Pineapple as they do in Antananarivo ? (play on word with a traditional folk song)” Used with permission.

 

Beggar: "Can I have 7,000 USD please ?" First lady: " I have no pineapple for you" via POV FB page

Beggar: “Can I have US $7,000 please?” First lady: “I have no pineapple for you.” Via the POV Facebook page

"New Pineapple haircut because I want to be famous too" via Rivo Francis on Facebook

“New pineapple haircut because I want to be famous too.” Via Rivo Francis on Facebook

"Did you know that the Brand Dolce & Ananas was all the rage in Madagascar ?" via Aina Rakotoson onn FB

“Did you know that the brand Dolce & Ananas was all the rage in Madagascar?” “Anana” means pineapple in French. Via Aina Rakotoson on Facebook

Tragically, all the jokes about pineapple came a few days after tragedy struck the country's independence day ceremony. A grenade exploded into the crowd watching the military parade in the national stadium, killing three people and injuring 91. Here is a video of the aftermath:

The whole conversation on “Pineapple-Gate” comes at a time when a major bill on freedom of speech and ethics online is being prepared by Malagasy authorities. The early returns from insiders on how the bill will shape up hint that it will severely restrict free expression online and will include heavy fines for any materials deemed to be libel. The bill should be submitted to the parliament for approval in the coming weeks.

Global Voices in Malagasy editor Andriamifidisoa Zo aka Jentilisa has contributed to this story with links and emails to the bloggers mentioned in this article.

by Lova Rakotomalala at July 01, 2016 11:21 AM

The ‘Achievement Epidemic’ in Vietnam Schools
Children in a classroom at Thuong Nong Primary School, Tam Nong District, Phu Tho Province in Vietnam. Photo and caption by ILO/Truong Van Vi. Source: Flickr. CC License

Children in a classroom at Thuong Nong Primary School, Tam Nong District, Phu Tho Province in Vietnam. Photo and caption by ILO/Truong Van Vi. Source: Flickr. CC License

This article by Nguyễn Linh Chi is from Loa, an independent news website and podcast that broadcasts stories about Vietnam. It is republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The sound of cicada. The vibrant red color of the Flamboyant Trees’ blossoms. These are the distinctive signs of summer in Vietnam, as well as exam season. It is the most important time in a student’s life: The high school graduation test also determines college admission.

Vietnam’s first university, Văn Miếu Quốc Tử Giám or the Temple of Literature in Hà Nội, is humming with activity this time of the year. Students come here to pray for good luck before the big exam. Families make generous donations to the temple in hopes it will bring blessings to their children.

“My parents want me to get into college so I can have a brighter future,” says 17-year-old Đỗ Mai from Hà Nam province, south of Hanoi, one of the high school students taking the big test this year. Her dad is a retired soldier, her mom is a rice farmer. Mai applied to college this year with the hope of furthering her education, as well as making her parents proud.

She recalls distinctively what her mom once said to her:

A couple of years ago, my mom told me after a long day of working in the rice paddies: ‘You got to study really hard so you don’t have to do this kind of intensive field labor like me. Chances are in a couple of years, we won’t even have the rice paddies anymore. They are industrializing everything. Once they open factories here we will lose our paddies.’

This year, about 600,000 youths have registered their intent to go to college, in a country that has a little more than 400 accredited institutions. The shortage of university slots has made a rigorous testing system all the more competitive. Students are tested on a minimum of four subjects: math, literature, and English are mandatory. The fourth subject can be freely chosen from biology, chemistry, geography, history, and physics.

“I’m worried the most about English because I find it very boring to study,” Mai says. “But it is a mandatory subject so I’m worried.”

According to the Ministry of Education, the exam format this year will be similar to that of previous years: 60 percent of the material is considered “easy”, designed so students who only wish to graduate from high school can do well just by demonstrating their basic understanding of the lessons, while the other 40 percent of the test is made more difficult to challenge college candidates and categorize student levels.

Once the exam scores are announced, students can start registering for their college of choice. Based on the number of applicants and their performance, schools will then determine the accepted test scores.

Mai says if her results allow, she would like to study to become a preschool teacher.

They said I was good with kids since I was in sixth, seventh grade, so I should study to become a preschool teacher,” she explains. “They also said teaching jobs are among the harder ones to find after college, and it’s going to be a challenge dealing with upset children. But I made the decision to go with it anyway.

The preschool education program Mai chose is a highly competitive one. There were reportedly more than 15,000 applications to Hà Nội’s National College of Education in 2011, but the school only accepts 1,800 students a year. That’s a 12 percent acceptance rate, which is even more competitive than any Ivy League schools’ in America. Mai would have to score exceptionally well in order to make it to her desired program. And even if she completes her teaching degree, she may not find a job in the field she trained for. In 2013, the Education Ministry paused the teaching program due to “a sign of mismatch between supply and demand.”

According to Vietnamnet News, many graduates who have a teaching degree report that they can’t find jobs, so they have had to switch industries and explore jobs in different fields.

Bùi Văn Thuận, a chemistry teacher at the private high school Bình Minh in Hà Nội, says that mismatch points to another problem with Việt Nam’s education system: the lack of vocational schools for students.

I think families’ expectations and the career guidance given to students are unrealistic and not that helpful. There are many students out there who are talented in many skilled areas, mechanical for example. They could take a two-year training program on that specific skill, be excellent at it and graduate with a practical degree. But instead, they feel they must go to college. As a result, students may not study what they are truly interested in or passionate about.

Thuận says Vietnamese youths are under a lot of pressure as they are often taught that going to college is the only path to succeed in life. The nationwide exam takes place only once a year, so they can’t afford to disappoint their parents. He says the so-called “achievement disease” among parents is what has made the college admissions process become so stressful:

Vietnamese care a lot about reputation. If the neighbor’s kids get into college, they feel the pressure that their children have to make it too in order to not lose face. This is why many parents are more stressed out about the exams than the students themselves.

To make it easier on the kids, some parents have resorted to unethical practices to heighten his or her scores, so much so that it has now become part of the exam ritual, says Thuận. Before the test, many high schools hold meetings to collect what is called an “exam fee” from parents. In reality, this fee is used to bribe test proctors so they could be more lenient with monitoring students.

In Hanoi, this fee ranges from 500,000 to 600,000 đồng. In the provinces, this rate is lower, around 200,000 to 300,000 đồng per student.

At the low end, 200,000 đồng equate to just about 10 US dollars, but the benefit is mutual: proctors earn extra income, parents feel more secure that their children have a better chance of scoring high in the exam, and the school gets to maintain high graduation pass rates on their students. Due to this practice, cheating has become common at high school graduation exams. A survey by Thanh Niên news found that, almost 85 percent of students acknowledged seeing rampant cheating on high school graduation exams – and Vietnamese educators say the findings come as no surprise. Thuận says:

After the exams, the entire school becomes white, covered with used cheat sheets. Students litter them in the school yard after they are done. Under the current exam system, the pass rate would only be about 40 percent at most if proctors monitored students closely.

This year the Education Ministry has come out with new measures to reduce cheating. Students who cheat will not be allowed to proceed with the rest of the exam and the next subjects. Mai says it is a risk she won’t take:

Cheating has a negative impact on me. If I’m caught, they will make the cheat subject zero, so I won’t be able to graduate from high school, and ultimately, I can’t go to college.

Mai says if she doesn’t make it to college, she will look into other career options such as getting a certification for a desk job, or even learning to become a seamstress.

The big exam is only a couple of days away. She tells herself: “Study harder! I’ll make my dream come true and move toward my future!”

One thing she is sure of is that she will not be a farmer like her mom.

Listen to the podcast about the issue:

by Loa at July 01, 2016 09:53 AM

In China, Homophobia and Fear of ‘Foreign Forces’ Go Hand in Hand
The lesbian couple's public proposal in the Guangdong Foreign Studies University on June 21. Photo from Gender in China's blog.

The lesbian couple's public proposal in the Guangdong Foreign Studies University on June 21. Photo from Gender in China's blog.

A recent incident shows how fear of homosexuality and fear of foreign forces is sometimes intertwined in China.

On June 21, a lesbian couple from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies had a romantic public proposal after their graduation ceremony. Very quickly, photos of their passionate kisses and news about the proposal went viral on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo. People praised the public display of love and gave them their blessings.

But later that same day, the Wechat public account of a Guangzhou-based group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people called Girlfriend was taken down permanently by censors because of their coverage of this public proposal. A post on Weibo relating the same news published by a Guangzhou-based feminist group called Women Awakening was also deleted.

Accused of being ‘under the control of an illegal organization’

One of the newly engaged women, Wang Xiaoyu, was threatened by the deputy secretary of the university's Chinese Communist Party committee that she would face disciplinary action for “misbehavior.” Wang wrote a post on feminist group Gender in China's blog on June 28 recounting what she went through after the public proposal:

我叫王小宇,是一名拉拉。我和我的女朋友同是广东外语外贸大学2016年应届毕业生。借毕业典礼之际,我们决定以求婚的方式公开出柜,让性少数群体的亲密关系在大学校园内被看见、被讨论、被思考,为创造开放多元的大学校园环境而尽一份力。[…]

事情发生不久后,我学院党委副书记杜书记火燎火急要找我谈话,希望我就此事在媒体禁声,不要给学校带来“不良影响”,“你要保护好自己,不要受到媒体伤害”,她担心“别有用心”的“国外媒体”、“国外势力”关注、利用我。

杜书记这样和我说,“这么多同性恋者,大家都不会歧视,因为他们把握得很好,不会去影响到别人,也不会去危害到别人。”
去年是我校50周年校庆,50对广外异性恋伴侣举行了集体婚礼,而我们又什么时候怀疑过他们的举动会不会“危害到别人”?[…]同性恋之间的爱欲表达怎么又变成一个不堪,更遑论危害他人的事情?

My name is Wang Xiaoyu, I am a lesbian. Both my girlfriend and I are 2016 graduates of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. We wanted to make use of the graduation ceremony to come out of the closet publicly with a romantic partnership proposal. We want to make visible the intimate relationships of sexual minorities, to stimulate discussion and reflection and to construct an open and diverse university environment. […]

Soon after [the public proposal], Secretary Du, the deputy secretary of our school, desperately wanted to talk to me. She wanted me to stop talking to the media and stop having a “negative impact” on the school. She urged me to “protect myself from the harm of the media” and she was worried that “foreign media” with “ill-intentions” and foreign forces will pay attention to me, use me.

Secretary Du said to me, “There are so many gays and lesbians around, no one discriminates against them because they know how to handle their relationships in a way that doesn't affect and bring harm to others.”

Last year, during our university's 50th anniversary, 50 pairs of heterosexual couples had their marriage ceremonies together. There was never any assumption that their actions would bring harm to others. […] How come expressions of love between LGBT people brings harm to others?

The deputy secretary confiscated Wang's graduation certificate on June 22 to make sure that she would not talk to the media. She also put pressure on Wang's parents, telling them that their daughter was under the control of an “illegal organization” and asked them to report “her daughter missing” to the police so that they could break into her apartment and search for evidence of her connection to an illegal organization.

Wang only managed to recover her graduation certificate on June 28 after she had been silent for a week and had cancelled a work-related trip. The school's deputy secretary was happy that the situation was under control:

杜书记严肃地和我家里人说我参与了非法的、不正当的活动,会对我的前途有很大的影响。她说我原来是非常优秀的学生,但后来变化太大。现在我为与父母沟通放弃出差被他们定义为“局势的扭转”,“事态还在萌芽状态就得到控制,被扼杀了”。然而她没有意识到的是,事情没有往她丰富的想象方向发展,这可能会给她立了一个大功劳,却给我的生活带来多大的创伤与影响。

从杜书记自作主张告诉我家人“我是被非法组织控制了”开始,我就陷入了和家长非暴力沟通无效且受到双方压力的无力中。她丰富的想象力给我紧张的父母火上浇油,在我和父母有沟通隔阂的时期趁虚而入,最终导致我和家人之间信任破裂[…]。

Secretary Du told my family in a serious manner that I had participated in illegal and inappropriate activities, which will have a huge impact on my future. She said I was an excellent student but had changed. I gave up a work-related trip for my parents, and they saw this as “a turn for the better,” “nipping this in the bud.” Her imagining something that did not happen might help her claim victory. She didn't care how she has harmed me.

Since she told my family that “I was under the control of an illegal organization,” I could no longer communicate with my family and fell into a state of helplessness. Her imagination added fuel to my already tense relationship with my parents and now all the trust within the family has been broken […]

‘Be courageous to speak out about love’

Seeing the ill treatment the lesbian couple was receiving, LGBT groups posted selfies on social media to show their support.

The placard says: Child, true love has nothing to do with genders. Be courageous to voice out love. " Photo from LGBT family support group's Weibo.

The placard says: “Child, true love has nothing to do with gender. Be courageous to speak out about love.” Photo from LGBT family support group's Weibo.

Feminist group Gender in China called on netizens to send in same-sex public proposal photos to combat homophobia. Below are some of the entries:

The placard says: marriage proposal is the same for homosexual or heterosexual couples. Photo from Gender in China.

The placard says: “Marriage proposals are the same for homosexual and heterosexual couples.” Photo from Gender in China.

pubic 2

The placard says: “Marriage proposals are the same for homosexual and heterosexual couples.” Photo from Gender in China.

public 3

The placard says: “Marriage proposals are the same for homosexual and heterosexual couples.” Photo from Gender in China.

by Oiwan Lam at July 01, 2016 03:29 AM

June 30, 2016

Global Voices
Here's What Macedonia's Colorful Revolutionaries, Armed With Paint, Have Achieved So Far
'Colorful Revolution' protesters walk the streets of Skopje on June 20, 2016. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

‘Colorful Revolution’ protesters walk the streets of Skopje on June 20, 2016. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Two major demands have been met since protesters started coming out on the streets of Macedonian cities ten weeks ago: a presidential blank pardon to regime politicians has been withdrawn and the government planned ‘one-party’ elections — which only featured their party — have been cancelled.

Despite threats from the regime that criminal charges will be brought against them, the protesters are holding their ground and continuing to push for reform. They want the ruling coalition of VMRO-DPMNE and DUI out.

The anti-corruption protests in the tiny Balkan land-locked country — dubbed the ‘Colorful Revolution’ — are non-violent, include marches, performances, and lots of color. Armed with paint buckets and water guns, protesters have been splashing paint on structures that symbolize the impunity and poor governance of the ruling regime.

The nonviolent movement adopted the name Colorful Revolution, because of the paint and the diversity of the protesters. The movement includes civil society activists, members of the political opposition (from the center, the left and the right), and many politically-unaffiliated citizens from all ethnic backgrounds. The diverse mix of Macedonian citizens are united in their outrage over abuse of power within state institutions.

The pardon that opened a can of paint

The protests started on April 12, when President Ivanov pardoned all those charged and under investigation, by the newly-established Special Public Prosecutor Office, in a wiretapping scandal that targeted members of the country's opposition.

Within a month, the protests spread to 22 cities across Macedonia. In some cities, like Skopje and Bitola, they included almost daily marches and painting. In smaller cities, they were less frequent, but still numerous. During June, other forms of protests were also used, including blockades of crossroads, and protest performances.

The People! Here’s the people, in the streets! By today (May 17) protests have been taken place in record 22 cities: Strumica, Veles, Ohrid, Resen, Kičevo, Kavadarci, Bitola, Prilep, Radoviš, Gevgelija, Štip, Kočani, K. Palanka, Obleševo, Delčevo, Gostivar, Tetovo, Kumanovo, Skopje, Kruševo, Sv. Nikole, Vinica.” From a tweet by @MKColorful.

“The People! Here’s the people, in the streets! By today (May 17) protests have been taken place in record 22 cities: Strumica, Veles, Ohrid, Resen, Kičevo, Kavadarci, Bitola, Prilep, Radoviš, Gevgelija, Štip, Kočani, K. Palanka, Obleševo, Delčevo, Gostivar, Tetovo, Kumanovo, Skopje, Kruševo, Sv. Nikole, Vinica.” From a tweet by @MKColorful.

Paint is splashed across the State Election Commission 

The government of Republic of Macedonia canceled its plan to hold an early election with participation of only the ruling party in June, fulfilling one of the eight demands of the protest movement. The process showed that the combined pressure from the people in the streets, and the other domestic and international factors, can bring about change even within very adverse circumstances.

Initially, the State Election Commission (SEC), where ruling parties appointees hold majority, approved the elections on April 16, even though its task to clean the voting registry from phantom voters had not been done. Back then, the SEC estimated that the starting price tag for these elections would have been EUR 7.5 Million (USD 8.34 Million) for their basic expenses.

On May 4, the ‘Colorful Revolution’ protest march in Skopje visited the seat of the SEC. Thousands of people marched behind the banner “Dictatorial Electoral Crime!”, and then the protesters lighted flares, and threw paint on the facade of the building.

The State Election Office after the 'Colorful Revolution' protest on May 4, 2016. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

The State Election Office after the ‘Colorful Revolution’ protest on May 4, 2016. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Considering that the basic conditions for the elections to be free and fair are not fulfilled, the protesters, the civil society organizations like election observers MOST, the international community, foreign analysts, the political parties in the opposition and also within ruling coalition all took position that such elections should not take place.

Attempting to maintain his image of invincibility, the ruling party chief Nikola Gruevski claimed that the one-party elections will take place on June 5, and then, after his party wins, he would also organize new elections with more parties.

Lack of pluralism brought back memories of communism, and further mobilized the ‘undecided.’ Some remembered that in the leaked wiretaps, the Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanoski defined “democracy” as a state when all MPs are from his party. Others re-shared an interview with the president from 2013 in which Gjorge Ivanov praised the unchanging stability resulting from Chinese Communism.

"I see, finally we get an efficient Parliament" - a much shared 2009 "Pecko" cartoon by Darko Markovikj, who died on June 9, 2016. Protesters dedicated a march to his memory.

“I see, finally we get an efficient Parliament” – a much shared 2009 “Pecko” cartoon by Darko Markovikj, who died on June 9, 2016. Protesters dedicated a march to his memory.

However, as daily street protests and other forms of influence continued, the VMRO-DPMNE backed down and canceled this plan through its apparatchiks in the state institutions. Тhe Constitutional Court annulled Parliament Dissolution and the reconvened Parliament postponed the elections without setting a new date.

President withdraws pardons

In the aftermath of this decision, the Parliament also appointed new ministers from the ruling party, replacing opposition “caretaker” heads of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The ruling party politicians took a number of measures, including repeated detention of protesters, which have been interpreted as attempts to maintain the rule of fear. High ruling party officials and pro-government media stepped up their campaign against the protesters, targeting them with defamatory accusations of being foreign mercenaries.

Protesters again paint the Ministry of Justice, while the citizens chant: “Down with Dictatorship!”

But after weeks of stalling and bickering, the president actually revoked his decision for blank pardons of the persons under investigation by the Special Prosecutors Office on June 6.

There was no explanation why his list of preemptively pardoned people included some who had not been suspects in the  investigations. One such person, Kosta Krpach, was found dead in his apartment in Skopje, with two bullet wounds in his chest. The SPO informed the public that he was in fact a volunteer witness who had been receiving threats. After several weeks of investigation, the (non-special) Public Prosecutor Office declared that the case as “a suicide.”

Protests continue to paint Skopje

After the revocation of the pardons, the protesters focused on two of their remaining demands. In order to prevent any new legalistic obstacles to the work of the Special Prosecutors’ Office, they demand from the Constitutional Court to issue a decision about the SPO's legality.

The Special Prosecutor Office was established as part of the Przhino Agreement, brokered by the EU and the US, at invitation of Macedonian political actors. International community involvement is based on the long term consensus that the country's strategic goal is to join the EU and NATO. While working towards the same goals, the protesters are also not shy of criticizing the all other stakeholders,  by issuing demands for allowing civil society monitoring of the negotiations in order to prevent backroom deals.

The second urgent demand is stopping police harassment of the protesters. Some of the more visible protesters have been singled out and subjected to repeated short-term detention, invitations for questioning in police stations, spectacular arrests, and house arrests. Often, such acts incite further, spontaneous protests.

During the second half of June, protests continued less frequently but with higher concentration. On June 20, over 25,000 people gathered in the center of Skopje to reiterate the demands of the Colorful Revolution. A week later, on the next organized protest in the capital, several thousands people showed up again.

by Filip Stojanovski at June 30, 2016 10:08 PM

Even Assad Supporters Aren't Immune to Syria's Kings of Looting

[Image: Drawing by Abi al-Bara’ shows the map of Syria as a road signaled by coffins leading to the coast. (Source: The Cry (as-Sarkhah)’s Facebook page)].

[Image: Drawing by Abi al-Bara’ shows the map of Syria as a road signaled by coffins leading to the coast. (Source: The Cry (as-Sarkhah)’s Facebook page)].

This story was originally written for Syria Untold in Arabic by translated by  and edited by Andrea Glioti. It is republished here as a partnership agreement. 

A small stroll in loyalist neighborhoods in the Syrian cities of Jableh and Latakia will tell you that not all regime supporters are the same. Talks of “banal death”, “corruption”, “war profiteers” and “price peaks” are no longer confined to private spheres. You now hear it at the grocery store, on public transport and from passers-by on the streets.

An undeclared conflict of interests has split regime supporters into various groups. The community is split between benefiters of the status quo, backed by influential groups, and everyone else. The benefiters carry out “thuggish” (tashbihiyyah) abuses against harmless regime supporters, who do not dare to assert their basic rights.

“A new mobile phone model shakes me into action and occupies me more than the news of the death of someone I know,” said Nader, a techie college student, to describe how he relates to the numerous daily casualties around him.

“I don’t think of tomorrow. I live my day with minimum damage possible. I wait for the beginning of each month to collect the pension of my recently deceased mother, although it doesn’t even cover a quarter of my needs, and so days wipe out days.”

On the other end of the government supporters’ spectrum there is Wasim, an ex-telecommunication professional in his thirties, and a current member of the National Defense Forces (NDF). “I hope the crisis lasts for years. I got my back watched (by influential people) and no one can mess with me. I go on a stroll on the Latakia-Aleppo highway with my guys and they take whatever they want and no one dares to speak out or object. I now have several houses and cars,” flaunts Wasim.

He pauses for a few seconds, then continues loudly, as if to justify himself: “In this war I have lost my brother and by nephew and I have the right to make up for it!”

Some joined the pro-government militias to earn a decent salary, or to avoid being dispatched to remote regions. “I finished my studies at the industrial institute and I was to be drafted, so I had no choice other than joining the NDF, where the wage is better than with the army [30.000 SYP (roughly 58 USD) in comparison with 15.000 SYP (29 USD), although the army salary is inclusive of some clothes, room and board],” said Muhammad, another NDF fighter, “and I am serving in the Latakia countryside, so I get the chance to see my girlfriend and family once a week, which would be impossible in the army.”

Wasim, who became rich thanks to the same paramilitary group, takes a few more puffs of his cigarette, then continues: “The NDF is more like a gang forced upon me by circumstances. Actually it is a war gang of the worst type. Its leadership comprises the most dangerous criminals in the coast, who used to run illegal activities before the war. Those activities increased and spread out like a cancer in the last few years. Everything has a price for them.”

Regime militia members exploit their presence at checkpoints to extort tolls from drivers, and blackmail anyone whose ID points to an area out of government control.

They are also the kings of “de-furnishing” (taʿfish), which is the term used to describe furniture thefts from the houses of those who have been displaced as a result of military action. NDF member Muhammad commented ironically that their excuse is that those are “war spoils” (ghana’im) they have earned through their efforts to defend the homeland against the enemy.

He explained that the thefts reach even the houses of people living in regime-controlled Latakia and its devastated countryside. In these areas “the defender is the thief,” concluded Muhammad.

Death and its many explanations

“People of the coast are the regime’s human repository in this war, like embers they burn quietly beneath the ashes of this grinding war,” this is how Mahmud describes the situation. He works as a private tutor. He has intentionally not completed his college education to postpone the military draft.

He adds: “It is no secret that some consider death an honor and take pride in it, seeking it in battle fields all over Syrian soil. On the other hand, there are those who find themselves forced into taking part in this filthy war without belonging to any side.”

“Patriotic” ideologies control the minds and hearts of many of those who consider death a duty in the defense of the homeland. The violations committed by some opposition groups, or their extremism, become a pretext to convince themselves that defending the regime despite all its faults is the guarantee for the lives of their families.

Umm Ahmad is more than 70 years old. She lost four of her seven sons in the past five years. The old woman tearfully says: “ We must all sacrifice in self-defense so that we can survive. Of course the price will be very high, and I don’t mind losing my other three sons.”

Her husband Abu Ahmad agrees on that, even though he clearly expresses his rejection of the regime’s management of the crisis: “The traitors and the corrupt should have been held accountable. Those who handed over areas to the armed (opposition) men in return for money have not been tried for that. I lost one of my sons in the at-Tabqa airport battle (August 2014) and until today there is no official regime account that explains to us what happened there.”

On the other hand, Umm ʿAli, a woman in her sixties, takes a very different stance. After losing her middle son in the war, she says: “I am not willing to send my youngest to the military. I cannot imagine losing another son, come hell or high waters. My son never leaves the village in fear that his name might be called on for the draft, so he only leaves (home) to help his father work in the orange grove.“

Five years on

Many changes have almost radically affected the stance of lots of regime supporters. Corruption has spread to an undeniably obvious extent and those who were desperately defending the regime and its symbols have been directly or indirectly subjected to an injustice that made them reconsider their stance.

Shadiah, an employee in her thirties, commented on this point saying: “In the beginning there was a majority of enthusiasts willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the homeland and its leader. In every heated debate, any critic of regime practices was considered a traitor. […] The apologists used the opposition’s silence against violations committed in the name of the revolution as an excuse to undermine the values and credibility of the revolution.”

Today, after five years, according to Shadiah, the vehement defense of the regime “has disappeared for many who suffered unjustified abuses, while it has remained frequent in individual instances. Nonetheless, the absence of the spirit of citizenship and the lack of respect for the human individual have left each person alone with their suffering.”

Having said that, the grievances of the “loyalist areas” from the war are not limited to the abuses committed by the regime and its militias. Car bombs, mortar shelling and the daily arrival of the corpses from battlefronts give the locals a taste of the Syrian tragedy as other Syrians have experienced it. Today numerous government supporters feel trapped between both sides.

This article was prepared inside Syria through direct interviews in the cities of Latakia and Jableh. Pseudonyms have been used to protect the sources.

by Syria Untold at June 30, 2016 07:52 PM

Can Japan’s Opposition Parties Compete?
Shinzo Abe hot air balloon. Image: Metropolico.org / Flickr / CC 2.0.

Shinzo Abe hot air balloon. Image: Metropolico.org / Flickr / CC 2.0.

This article is by Corey Wallace and was originally published in East Asia Forum. The article is republished on Global Voices under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.

On 10 July, Japan will hold its upper house elections with half of its seats to be contested. This will be the first time that 18 and 19 year-old citizens will be able to cast a vote in a national election.

There was a possibility that this would be a rare double election, but a number of factors convinced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide against this. One factor was caution over placing any additional burdens on the areas struck by April’s Kumamoto earthquake. Also, the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) coalition partner, Komeito, had opposed a double election from the start, as it relies on concentrating its organisational and financial resources for electoral success.

But perhaps the most decisive factor was the results of the April by-election in Hokkaido. Hokkaido District 5 was seen as a crucial test of whether a ‘united’ single opposition candidate could meaningfully contest a seat in a straight run-off with a government-backed candidate. Despite an intense campaign from the LDP, its victory was a rather modest one in a district it was expected to win convincingly. According to one exit poll, a surprising 70 per cent of independents actually voted for the opposition-backed candidate.

Internal LDP polling also suggested that the ruling coalition might lose its current two-thirds supermajority in the lower house in a double election. These results reportedly worried the government, especially given the prospect that a double election would increase public interest and therefore turnout of independent voters.

Encouraged by the Hokkaido result, the opposition parties agreed to run single candidates for all 32 of the single-member districts (SMDs) for the upper house election. In the 2013 election, the LDP won virtually all 31 of the SMDs up for grabs, even though the LDP did not, on average, receive a majority of votes in these districts. For the LDP, winning a sizeable majority of the SMDs in Japan’s upper house is usually necessary for a strong upper house majority, because opposition parties often do relatively better in the proportional representation segment and in multiple-member districts (MMDs).

Certain indicators have given the combined opposition hope that they might win a larger proportion of the SMDs and at least prevent a runaway victory for the government. One survey showed only lukewarm support for the LDP in the proportional representation vote, and a narrowing of the gap between the ruling parties and the opposition parties in the electoral districts.

Only 28 per cent of respondents thought that Abenomics was having a positive effect on the economy. Crucially, most of the SMDs are in regional areas, which havebenefited least from Abenomics. There is also evidence of growing unease with the Abe government among traditional LDP supporters in these areas due to the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Mindful of this unease, the government has delayed ratifying the agreement until after the upper house vote.

Despite concern over the ineffectiveness of Abenomics, the ruling coalition will campaign on being a stable, effective and ‘responsible’ government that needs an even stronger mandate to tackle reform and ‘accelerate Abenomics’. The opposition’s main line of attack will be the ‘failure’ of Abenomics, as seen in the second delay to the consumption tax increase, and the need for a strong opposition to temper the Abe government.

Punters thought that this election might be fought over constitutional and security issues. It is the first election since the passage of the controversial security legislation in 2015. While the legislation is still unpopular, opinion polls suggest the public is in no rush to repeal all of the legislation. China’s continued incursions into Japan’s claimed territorial seas and contiguous zones will not help the opposition case against the legislation.

The opposition will also raise the spectre of constitutional change under Abe, although the ruling coalition has studiously avoided campaigning on the issue. To change the constitution, the ruling coalition needs a two-thirds majority. This would require winning almost all 32 SMDs, a majority of proportional representation votes and a significant majority in the MMDs. But current polling suggests the LDP and Komeito will struggle to gain a majority of the PR votes. The LDP also forfeited the high-risk high-reward opportunity to win a large number of MMDs when it decided not to run more than one candidate per district.

It is very unlikely that the ruling coalition will win the supermajority necessary to change the constitution. Contrary to expectations, it is also unlikely that the arrival of young ‘nationalist’ Japanese voters will help. They are not particularly enthusiasticabout Abe’s security and constitutional agenda either.

With little to energise the public, voter turnout is likely to be low. Independents are unlikely to vote, as has been the case in every election after 2009. Unless there is a major political scandal, it is almost certain that the opposition will not be able to register a victory significant enough to change the way the Abe administration deals with the opposition. Perhaps the biggest issue will be whether the LDP can capture a majority of seats in the upper house on its own, making it a little less dependent on its Komeito coalition partner.

Corey Wallace is the Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies, the Free University of Berlin.

by East Asia Forum at June 30, 2016 07:15 PM

‘I'll Stay as Long as the Queen Allows Me to Stay’ and Other Brexit Reactions From the Portuguese-Speaking World
Brexit. Foto: Pixabay/Domínio Público

Brexit. Photo: Pixabay/Public Domain

British voters decided to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23, with 52% of the ballots supporting a so-called Brexit (Britain exit) over 48% for Bremain (Britain remain). British Prime Minister David Cameron tendered his resignation as this result.

The outcome has given rise to uncertainty about what will happen to EU citizens living and working in the UK (free movement of workers across member states is a central tenant of the European Union) as well as companies and organizations that do cross-border business. The stock market and the pound have fallen in the wake of the Brexit vote, and there have been reports of an increase in xenophobic incidents across the UK.

Around the globe, reactions to the vote in favor of leaving the EU have been diverse. Global Voices sought to find out what the Portuguese-speaking world are saying about Brexit.

Through Facebook, we talked to João Carvalho, who lives near London with his daughter and where he has worked as a mechanic at Jaguar for a year. He said he left Portugal, which is a member of the EU, to find a good job and because he considered it a failed state. In England, Carvalho said he found a higher quality of life and the possibility to provide a good future for his daughter.

He expected Brexit wouldn't have an impact on him and that it could “serve as a model for his own country”. Asked if he will remain in England even if the visa conditions become more difficult for European citizens, he replied, “I'll stay as long as the Queen allows me to stay,” and ended by saying that he had never personally experienced “any xenophobic sentiment by the British.”

On the other hand, Patrícia Soares, who has lived in Brighton since 2014 where she's completing a doctoral degree, said the number of xenophobic attacks since the vote has increased. “Most of the cases that I have heard is directed at Muslims, Polish and Pakistanis,” she told Global Voices. She added that she hadn't encountered any discrimination or hate and that “the day after the referendum, several British colleagues asked me how I felt and were unanimous in making it clear to me that it is not their position and were embarrassed with this result.”

Patricia doesn't intend to stay in England because her “goal was always a doctoral degree and return to Portugal.” The researcher acknowledges, however, that she'll need to change some of her plans: “We were exploring the possibility of continuing to work from Portugal and come regularly to the UK. Given the Brexit result, probably I'll have to think of other options. The funds will probably be more difficult to obtain and employers may not be so open to the possibility of paying someone from outside.”

The Brexit vote revealed a deep split between the four countries that make up the United Kingdom: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain, while England and Wales went the other way. The difference in voting has stoked calls for independence, especially in Scotland. Regarding the possibility of the UK breaking up, Soares said:

O futuro do Reino Unido não está claro. No entanto, seja o que for que aconteça daqui para a frente ninguém poderá apagar estes resultados da memória dos cidadãos. Esquecendo as consequências políticas e económicas, o aumento da discriminação que o leave (“sair”) trouxe não poderá ser apagado. O país está claramente dividido e acredito que a Escócia vai fazer os possíveis para continuar na UE. Tendo em conta a história com a Irlanda, a Irlanda do Norte é mais complicado

The future of the UK is unclear. However, whatever happens from now on, no one can erase these results from citizens’ memories. Forgetting political and economic consequences, increasing discrimination that the leave vote has brought cannot be deleted. The country is clearly divided and I believe that Scotland will do everything possible to continue in the EU. In regards to the history of Ireland, Northern Ireland is more complicated.

‘The end of a beautiful dream’

From Brazil, blogger “Socialista Morena” (Tan Socialist) argued that it the Brexit issue wasn't clear cut between left and right-wing:

Confesso que estranhei um certo desespero, por parte da esquerda, com a saída da Inglaterra da UE, como se fosse uma espécie de fim dos tempos – até porque a esquerda nunca foi uma grande defensora do bloco, pelo contrário. Nestes 23 anos de sua existência, não se pode dizer que a UE tenha sido uma maravilha para as pessoas mais necessitadas da Europa – a pobreza e a desigualdade estão crescendo, inclusive – ou mesmo para os imigrantes, que aparentemente serão o maior alvo da extrema-direita agora (como se já não fossem). Para complicar ainda mais, os pobres da Inglaterra votaram em sua ampla maioria pela saída do país da UE. Diante de tantas complexidades, prefiro esperar para ver antes de automaticamente me afirmar contra o Brexit.

I confess that I found the certain level of desperation from the left wing with the exit of Britain from the EU to be strange, as if it were like the end of times — because the left has never been a great defender of the block, on the contrary. In these 23 years of its existence, it cannot be said that the EU has been a wonder to the most deprived persons in Europe — poverty and inequality are growing — or even for immigrants, which apparently are the biggest target of the extreme right now (as if they never were before). To further complicate things, the poor from the UK voted in their vast majority for the country to leave the EU. Faced with so many complexities, I prefer to wait and see before automatically assert myself against Brexit.

An analysis of the results reveals how divided the UK is on the matter. The remain vote won in regions with greater economic power, while leave won in regions with greater economic problems, meaning the richest voted to stay while the poorest chose to get out of the EU. Other data taken from the referendum results points to a clash of generations. Young people want to stay in the EU, but the older voted to leave.

Is the future of the European common project at risk of dissolving? From Portugal, Francisco Fortunato, wrote the following:

Não acredito que a União Europeia tenha aprendido nada com o terramoto britânico. Nem compreendido as angústias dos mais desfavorecidos, nem os problemas que a construção do projeto europeu às escondidas dos cidadãos provocaram. Cedo ou tarde, um acontecimento como o inglês ia acontecer. Para nosso mal, o nosso futuro europeu comum é cada vez mais uma miragem, um sonho bom que se está a tornar um pesadelo. A Inglaterra não será um contraponto – por pequeno que tenha sido – ao poder alemão, a França está tão frágil que a sua voz pouco conta. A reação dura – pedindo um processo rápido – dos decisores europeus à saída da Inglaterra da União Europeia não passa de uma ameaça aos outros países. Nada faz prever uma inflexão de rumo, uma aprendizagem com os profundos erros cometidos.
Provavelmente, teremos uma União Europeia cada vez mais germanizada, mais fechada sobre o seu pequeno círculo de satélites e os outros condenados a viver ligados ao soro alemão, que lhes vai permitindo pouco mais do que se manterem à tona, ou a uma rutura que os vai atirar para uma crise social e política de proporções dantescas. É o fim de um sonho lindo.

I do not believe that the European Union has learned nothing from the British earthquake. Nor has it misunderstood the anguish of the poor and the problems that the construction of the European project behind closed doors, away from citizens, caused. Sooner or later, an event like the British would happen. To our detriment, our common European future is becoming a mirage, a good dream is becoming a nightmare. The UK will not be a counterpoint — as small as it has been — to German power, France is so fragile that their voice counts for little. The harsh reaction — calling for a quick process — from the European decision-makers to the UK's exit from the European Union is only a threat to other countries. Nothing indicates a shift in direction [for the EU], that they’ve learned from the profound mistakes they’ve made.

Probably, we will have a European Union increasingly Germanized, more closed off within its small circle of satellites and others condemned to live off the German lifeblood, which will allow them little more than to stay afloat or will throw them into social and political crisis of Dantesque proportions. It's the end of a beautiful dream.

‘I fear the anti-immigrant feeling will grow voraciously’

In Africa, Mozambicans also reacted to the possible departure of the UK from the EU. Isalcio Mahanjane warned it wasn't an isolated “trouble”:

(…) Vale a pena dizer que estamos em face de um verdadeiro “sarilho”, para os British themselves (para os próprios britânicos), para o resto da UE e para o mundo, donde não escaparão a minha África e o meu Moçambique! (…)

[…] It is worth saying that we are facing a real “trouble” for the British themselves, for the rest of the EU and the world, where will not escape my Africa and my Mozambique! […]

Eduardo Matine replied:

(…) Nos moldes em que Bruxelas vinha gerindo esta união, tarde ou cedo, de algum lado se ia desintegrar! A crise da Grécia fortaleceu a Alemanha com conivência de Bruxelas, só para citar alguns imbróglios que o Reino Unido e outros tiveram que engolir porque devem respeitar diretivas lá da união! Essa união, que supõe-se que devia servir aos países membros, deixa-se guiar por agendas milionárias de grupos económicos financeiros ditando regras de jogo e sendo jogador e fiscal ao mesmo tempo! (…)

[…] In the way in which Brussels was managing this union, sooner or later, some side would crumble! The Greek crisis has strengthened Germany with collaboration from Brussels, to name a few of the messes that the UK and others had to swallow because they must comply with directives from the union! This union, which it is assumed should serve the member countries, let itself be guided by the millionaire agendas of financial economic groups dictating the rules of the game, acting as the player and referee at the same time! […]

From Angola, Márcio Cabral, who once lived in the UK, feared the rise of xenophobia:

(…) Não acho que o “Brexit” tenha sido uma decisão acertada do ponto de vista económico. Quanto ao ponto de vista social, este sim é o que me preocupa profundamente. Como frisou o meu colega britânico Gerson Emanuel, a motivação deste voto foi puramente xenófoba…e por isso temo bastante que o sentimento anti-emigrante venha a crescer de forma voraz nos próximos tempos naquele país. Quando lá vivi, ouvi bastantes vezes a frase “Go back to your Country = Volta para o teu País” e temo que os meus, que ainda lá vivem, venham a passar por situações de racismo e xenofobia. Por mais “britânicos” que eles se possam sentir…

[…] I don't think that “Brexit” was a wise decision from an economic point of view. As for the social point of view, this is what worries me deeply. As pointed out by my British colleague Gerson Emanuel, the motivation of this vote was purely xenophobic … and so I fear the anti-immigrant feeling will grow voraciously in the near future in that country. When I lived there, I heard quite a few times “Go back to your country” and I fear for mine who still live there, and will go through situations of racism and xenophobia. No matter how “British” they think they can feel …

Cape Verdean Herminio Silves believed that the exit of the UK from the EU will affect his country too:

BREXIT GANHA. E CABO VERDE COM ISSO?

Pelos visto nos vai afetar e muito. A saída do Reino Unido da União Europeia prejudica – sim prejudicar, porque é o nacionalismo exacerbado e a xenofobia que venceram – o principal bloco do planeta, pelos seus efeitos de contágio. A Holanda, a França, a Itália e a Turquia (esta quer entrar na UE) já cogitam avançar também com um referendo se permanecem na União ou se ficam para a manter firme.
Com os sinais vindos do Reino Unido, é crível que esses países se deixem levar pela mesma onda e preferir sair da UE. Com isso, pode estar por um fio a moeda única europeia, o Euro, como aliás, se defende na Itália. Roma vai começar a referendar primeiro a sua saída da zona Euro, antes de avançar com uma consulta pública sobre a sua permanência na UE.
A desintegração começa a sentir-se e é o cenário mais preocupante. Cabo Verde é um dos que perde com o desmembramento da UE. O país, que por via do acordo cambial mantém o Escudo preso ao Euro, poderá não aguentar as oscilações do mercado se a moeda única europeia for para o brejo.
Além disso, há acordos bilaterais (pesca, circulação), financiamentos e o protecionismo que nos foge, ainda por cima, nesta época difícil.
Curioso é que ainda esta semana o presidente da AN (Assembleia Nacional), Jorge Santos, esteve nas Canárias onde, juntamente com os Açores e a Madeira, Cabo Verde reivindicou uma participação ativa nas instituições da UE, no quadro da Macaronésia. Bem, se os tubarões estão em debandada, que será dos peixinhos?

BREXIT WINS. AND WHAT ABOUT CAPE VERDE?

Apparently, it will affect us a lot. The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union undermines — yes, jeopardises because of the extreme nationalism and xenophobia that won — the main block of the planet, for its contagion effects. The Netherlands, France, Italy and Turkey (this last one wants to get in) have also set their minds on going ahead with a referendum to either leave the EU or to stay and make it stronger. With the signs coming out of the UK, it is believable that these countries could be carried away by the same wave and prefer to leave the EU. With this, the single European currency, the euro, is now questioned, as Italy is doing. Rome will start first, countersigning its departure from the Eurozone, before moving forward with a public consultation on their stay in the EU. The disintegration begins to happen and is the most worrying scenario. Cape Verde is one of the losers with the collapse of the EU. The country, which through the exchange agreement maintains its Escudo currency attached to the euro, cannot withstand the fluctuations of the market if the single currency goes down the tubes.

In addition, there are bilateral agreements (fishing, movement), financing and protectionism that we lose, moreover, in this difficult time.

Interestingly, this week the president of the National Assembly, Jorge Santos, was in the Canary Islands where, together with the Azores and Madeira, Cape Verde claimed an active participation in the EU institutions as part of Macaronesia. Well, if the sharks are in disarray, what will become of the little fish?

What's next?

The June 23 referendum is not legally binding The UK exit might not even materialise, although it is unlikely because disrespecting the will of the British electorate could be political suicide for any party that takes power.

Before resigning, David Cameron assured that the decision of the people would be respected and the other party leaders share the same opinion. It is now for the British Parliament to approve the referendum and ask the prime minister to formally invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that outlines how a state can withdraw from the EU. Once activated, the process can last up to two years.

Till then, Secretary of State of Portuguese Communities Abroad José Luis Carneiro told journalists in Lisbon:

Os portugueses com mais de cinco anos de trabalho no Reino Unido devem acautelar os seus direitos e requisitar a residência permanente naquele país, independente da saída ou não dos britânicos da União Europeia.

Portuguese people with more than five years of work in the UK must ensure their rights and request permanent residence in that country, regardless of the exit or not of Britain from the EU.

by Dalia Kiakilir at June 30, 2016 05:33 PM

DML Central
Critical Digital Citizenship: Promoting Empathy and Social Justice Online

I wrote Critical Citizenship for Critical Times in 2013, responding to the political upheaval in Egypt. I argued that teaching critical thinking traditionally promotes skepticism (a good thing, particularly when authorities like the government are corrupt or untrustworthy like the media) but what ended up happening in Egypt is that those who questioned media and political power turned their advocacy into oppositional advocacy that topples regimes but does little to co-construct a better future. I suggested we reconsider what we mean by “critical,” and proposed that universities aim to promote criticality that centers around social justice and empathy as a more fruitful approach than one centered on skepticism and antagonism. Critical thinking as social justice is mainly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire and other critical pedagogues:

The end goal of critical thinking is to challenge the status quo in order to achieve social justice, collectively raising consciousness of conditions promoting oppression in order to achieve liberation. It is a form of critical thinking that promotes praxis — reflective action based on knowledge, rather than mere activism … or speech and dialogue unaccompanied by action …. It is not mere skepticism about separate facts, it is value-driven and historically situated questioning of power structures that lie beneath the surface.

The idea of criticality that emphasizes empathy is influenced by Women’s Ways of Knowing and Edward Said’s philological hermeneutics — both of which propose empathizing with and trying to understand the point of view of the “other” first, in order to engage with them instead of approaching them with skepticism.

Global Digital Citizenship

Today, I’m thinking about digital citizenship, and what it would mean to develop critical digital citizenship on the premises of empathy and social justice. I find myself having really strong reactions to #Brexit, Donald Trump and things happening very far away from me in the past few years, highlighted by hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #IllRideWithYou. It isn’t merely global citizenship, but very specifically digital citizenship because my connection to many of these is heavily influenced by social media and what my friends and acquaintances all over the world are saying on social media and on their blogs, much more so than traditional media or in-person interactions.

I am also thinking about digital citizenship because of the current #DigCiz conversation, organized by Autumm Caines and Sundi Richard (Follow the hashtag on Twitter, or visit the website). I am helping facilitate a week in July discussing digital literacies, which encompass citizenship and critical literacy. If you are interested in finding resources on digital citizenship in general, check out these resources curated by Alec Couros and these 9 elements of digital citizenship. While working on this post, I noticed on DML central that Erica Hodgin wrote a piece on integrating digital literacy and civic engagement in schools, and Liz Losh wrote a piece on advocating for online privacy.

Social Justice Potential

My focus is on the potential of the digital in promoting empathetic and social justice-oriented critical citizenship, rather than digital citizenship in general.

Digital citizenship could express the digital dimension of our local citizenship. For example, social media use during the Arab Spring  for advocacy and collective action. Howard Rheingold had with an Egyptian activist who tells us how social media empowered him to do things he could not do face-to-face as a citizen. Digital citizenship augments our embodied citizenship, which can be limited by circumstance and safety concerns.

Digital citizenship promotes global citizenship when our digital presence makes us share virtual space with others, regardless of geography. It is tempting, but dangerous, to imagine this virtual space as “one.” We are not all equal in that space. Some of us are louder, more visible, and some of us more vulnerable. However, social media creates opportunities for connecting as global citizens on a day-to-day and even moment-to-moment and public basis that were not present beforehand.

The digital can make it both easier and harder to develop the aspects of critical citizenship I proposed three years ago. The need for critical information and media literacy is obvious. With social media, even more than the internet as a whole, there is a pressing need to question the credibility of sources, the interpretation of data, the agendas of those publishing and promoting certain viewpoints, and the algorithms and mechanisms by which all of these become prominent in our lives. There are important concerns about privacy and awareness of what we share and how we share it, and with whom we share it, as we have invisible audiences to consider (as danah boyd points out). With the growth of citizen journalism, we have come to believe that the truth no longer belongs to the large media corporations. But, how do you trust a stranger over Reuters?

For me, personally, empathy does not come from responding to a situation en masse, and trusting strangers, but from getting close to people different from myself online, getting to know them enough that I can (however partially) see a different worldview, and then also trust what they say in a 140-character tweet and can engage with them deeply, through layers of context. Social justice, also, is not an abstract notion or principle, but the lived experiences of people I know and care about.

A friend recently told me how he responded to people who were calling Muslims violent. He told them about me, someone he had never met in person, but whom he knew so well, and could cite as an example of a Muslim who was anything but violent. My friend lives in Florida, and he was the first person I asked about after the tragic Orlando shooting, even though I knew he was not in Florida at the time. Because of social media, I have come to know people different from myself so deeply that events like the #PulseOrlando shooting and #Brexit took on a much more personal meaning than just events happening on the other side of the world. I felt pain and grief.

How Social Media Promotes Empathy

Which brings me to the key question: can digital spaces such as social media help promote empathy and social justice instead of sensationalism, hatred and extremism?

Even though there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, I believe it can, if we use it thoughtfully and responsibly. The key, for me, is not in browsing a hashtag randomly, but in getting to know individuals over time, and understanding their contexts and the nuances behind what they tweet and post on their Facebook status, and then also by being thoughtful and intentional about what we ourselves write and share and amplify. There is a lot of potential for misunderstanding on social media, but when you know someone over an extended period of time, you can often detect things like sarcastic tone, and if not, you can ask for clarification. We make choices of whom to follow and how we work to circumvent algorithms dictating what we see of our virtual communities. Frances Bell urges us to “challenge traditional and social media to be the media that we want and resist them being immovable objects that manipulate what we can learn from other people.”

In my 2013 article, I suggested that in higher education, one can promote social justice and empathy that develops critical citizenship in three ways: apolitical civic engagement through community service (which research has shown promotes adult political civic engagement), simulation of authentic political contexts in a safe environment, and intercultural learning experiences. It is easy to imagine how social media creates space for the last of these to thrive, if we go beyond the surface in our interactions with culturally-different others. There are also a lot of opportunities for digital community service in the ways we share our learning and our thinking with each other.

One program I have participated in that offers cross-cultural dialogue for university students is Soliya. Where it is difficult for all students to travel across the world for a cross-cultural experience, Soliya offers the opportunity for semester-long dialogue on important issues. There are different models available at the Virtual Exchange Coalition. Any such program for youth requires careful facilitation and the support of a more experienced peer or teacher to help students reflect on what they are learning and take it forward beyond the limited period of exchange. Hopefully, social media enables relationships started through these programs to endure beyond them, helping young people become more empathetic critical digital citizens.

What are your suggestions for promoting empathy and social justice in digital spaces to promote critical digital citizenship?

Banner image credit: Steve Wall

The post Critical Digital Citizenship: Promoting Empathy and Social Justice Online appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at June 30, 2016 01:05 PM

Global Voices
Taiwan's First Airline Strike Inspires Workers in Other Sectors to Reflect on Their Rights
China Airline strike

China Airline flight attendants’ strike in Taipei on June 24. Photo credit: Brian Hioe. Republished by Global Voices with permission.

For the first time in its history, Taiwan witnessed a strike within the airline industry on June 24. Several thousand China Airlines (CAL) flight attendants protesting against a change to their working conditions first rallied in front of the Taipei branch headquarters. The strike then dramatically developed into an occupation of Nanjing East Road in the city center. The action resulted in the cancellation of 122 flights on Friday and Saturday; around 10,000 passengers were affected.

The strike came to an end the same day, with CAL flight attendants winning important concessions from the airline. And their success hasn't gone unnoticed by workers in other sectors in Taiwan.

What triggered the strike was the unilateral decision of CAL's management to reset flight attendants’ report-for-duty location without discussing with the flight attendants first. This affects the calculation of their working hours, cutting the report-for-duty time before flight take-off from 140 minutes to 90 minutes and off-duty time after the flight has landed from 60 minutes to 30 minutes only.

By cutting their working hours, the company can squeeze more flights into flight attendants’ schedules without giving them full rest time between flights. In other words, the change exploits flight attendants’ rest time. In addition, a new contract that the airline requested them to sign recently extended their working hours from 174 hours per month to 220 hours per month.

The tension between the airline workers and the Taiwanese government-dominated enterprise has been escalating for many years. The company has been criticized for extremely long work hours and low pay on holiday shifts.

Smaller-scale demonstrations have taken place in the past two years. In September 2014, some flight attendants protested against the increased number of red-eye flights and the reduced number of flight attendants on each flight. In response, airline management issued a warning to them for protesting and suggested that they raise the issue in negotiations instead of protesting.

In January 2015, CAL’s workers protested again for their salary and bonus. The airline management did not respond to their request, but they penalized protesting flight attendants by transferring their job to customer service and forcing them to be re-trained.

After a huge CAL labor protest at the end of May 2016, CAL management proceeded to fire two members of the technicians’ union. At the same time, the union of flight attendants decided to vote for a strike that could force the airline management to take them seriously. This time, 2,535 out of the 2,638 members of the CAL flight attendants union voted in support of the strike.

After a five-hour negotiation, the company, under pressure from the government, agreed to restore the previous working hour calculation policy, consult with worker representatives on policy changes in the future, ensure sufficient holidays, and increase the flight attendants’ daily allowance at the destination location. The strike ended in the late evening on June 24.

On Facebook, one of the protesting flight attendants said:

今天華航員工被資方壓榨,其實只是全台灣勞工的縮影
台灣的經濟成長率幾乎年年為正,請問你的薪水有漲嗎?[…]
就算企業賺錢,打工仔還是領最低薪資、老闆還是給你差不多的薪水,剩下的錢通通進到他們口袋
社會資源都大集團壟斷、勞資越來越不平衡,也難怪年輕人看不到未來,怎麼拼都還是條魯蛇
所以,就讓我們開革命的第一槍吧!

Today the staff of CAL are exploited by management, and this is just one of the cases that labor face every day in Taiwan. The GDP growth of Taiwan is positive almost every year, has your salary been raised? […]

Even when the companies earn a lot of money, the hourly paid workers only earn the minimum salary, and the boss only pays you almost the same salary. The rest of the money always goes into their pockets.

Social resources are monopolized by the big companies, and the relationship between the workers and management is less and less balanced. No wonder young people cannot see a future, because they are doomed to be losers no matter how hard they work.

Therefore, let us fire the first gunshot of this revolution.

‘No one in any occupation should work like a slave’

The actions of CAL's management that triggered the strike didn't happen in a vacuum. Recently, Taiwan's business community has been lobbying legislators to introduce new revisions to the Labor Standards Act that would strip the government of their power to protect employees regarding their working hours and allow companies to extend workers’ schedules as long as they wish.

In a public hearing on working hours in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on June 21, the executive director of the General Chamber of Commerce, an organization representing the interests of businesses, suggested that the upper limit of overtime should be extended to 60 hours per month because “it is good for the health and income of workers”.

If the business community continues with its push to extend working hours, it wouldn't be surprising if they encounter more and more opposition from their employees, especially on the heels of the CAL flight attendants’ success. In fact, the flight attendants’ strike has inspired workers from other sectors to reflect upon their labor rights and contemplate future collective action action to improve their working conditions.

The Taipei City Hospital Union preparation committee said on its Facebook page:

空服員在刻板印象總是年輕、漂亮、語言能力佳等小資階級特質[…]華航空服員今日寫下台灣罷工史新頁,但願這非單一階級的勝利,而能將這勝利延伸到更多其他不美、不年輕、不優勢的階級群眾。

The perception of flight attendants is always young, beautiful, good language skills, etc., those ‘petit bourgeois’ characters.[…] Today the CAL flight attendants wrote a new page in the history of strikes in Taiwan. I hope this success will not be limited to this class of workers, and this success could be extended to other less beautiful, less young, and less advantageous classes.

Health care workers in Taiwan have complained about their working conditions for years, but have a uniquely difficult time going on strike. Legally, management must approve their strike; any other action would be considered illegitimate. The law is made to protect patients, but more and more medical staff argue that their labor rights are aligned with patients’ interest. Vicky Lin, a nurse, said:

看到有人提出如果護理師罷工,病人死掉誰來負責的說法
我想問的是,那如果醫護人員超時工作過度疲勞造成給藥錯誤開錯刀醫錯病,為什麼這種情況造成病人死亡時就要醫護人員買單!?我們有準時下班的選項嗎?沒有!那為什麼我們活該被告!?
沒有什麼職業天生應該被當奴才一樣的存在,沒有什麼職業應該要燒光自己只為點亮別人,不要再說醫護本來就是高道德標準的工作

I heard people ask who should take responsibility if patients die when nurses strike.
What I want to ask is why should medical staff take the responsibility for the errors that they make when they are too tired due to overtime? Do we have a choice to leave our job on time? No! Therefore, why should we be sued for these kind of errors!?

No one in any occupation should work like a slave. No one in any occupation should light up others while burning down ourselves. Please do not say that health care workers should have high moral standards.

The flight attendants’ strike has served as a kind of wake-up call for Taiwanese workers in other sectors that the proposed revision to the Labor Standards Act might affect them. Legislators who had signed on the revision are now under pressure due to what happened with this strike. Feeling that their interests are threatened by the success of flight attendants’ labor action, on June 27 the business community decided to suspend all negotiations with the government and workers regarding further legislation on public holidays and working hours.

by I-fan Lin at June 30, 2016 03:01 AM

Doc Searls
Desert warfare training in live ghost towns, seen from the sky

I’ve been fascinated for years by what comes and goes at the Fort Irwin National Training Center

fortirwin

—in the Mojave Desert, amidst the dark and colorful Calico Mountains of California, situated in the forbidding nowhere that stretches between Barstow and Death Valley.

Here and there, amidst the webwork of trails in the dirt left by tanks, jeeps and other combat vehicles, fake towns and other structures go up and come down. So, for example, here is Etrebat Shar, a fake town in an “artificial Afghanistan” that I shot earlier this month, on June 2:

etrebat-shar1

And here is a broader view across the desert valley east of Fort Irwin itself:

etrebat-shar2

Look to the right of the “town.” See that area where it looks like something got erased? Well, it did. I took the two shots above earlier this month, on June 2. Here’s a shot of the same scene on June 25, 2013:

etrebat-shar3

Not only is the “town” a bit bigger, but there’s this whole other collection of walls and buildings, covering a far larger area, to the right, or east.

I also see in this shot that it was gone on December 8, 2014.

Now I’m fascinated by this town and the erased something-or-other nearby, which I also shot on June 2:

othertown

It appears to be “Medina Wasl,” which Wikipedia says is one of twelve towns built for desert warfare training:

One of the features of the base is the presence of 12 mock “villages” which are used to train troops in Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) prior to their deployment. The villages mimic real villages and have variety of buildings such as religious sites, hotels, traffic circles, etc. filled with foreign language speaking actors portraying government officials, local police, local military, villagers, street vendors, and insurgents. The largest two are known as Razish and Ujen, the closest located about 30 minutes from the main part of the post. Most of the buildings are created using intermodal containers, stacked to create larger structures, the largest village consists of 585 buildings that can engage an entire brigade combat team into a fight.

Now I’m slowly going through my other shots over the years to see if I can find Razish and Ujen… if they haven’t been erased.

It would be cool to hear from military folk familiar with Fort Irwin, or veterans who have worked or fought mock battles in those towns.

by Doc Searls at June 30, 2016 02:24 AM

June 29, 2016

Global Voices
The Uncertain Future of the Syrian Revolution
Fighters from the 101st Infantry Division. Picture used with permission from the Division's media office.

Fighters from the 101st Infantry Division. Picture used with permission from the Division's media office.

The Syrian Regime is willing to remain in its current position for years, as long as it does not pay for this time with the blood of its own fighters, but rather with that of foreign militias and Syrian loyalists whose lives are worthless to the Regime. Most often, the Regime pushes forcefully enlisted fresh recruits to their front lines, as sacrificial lambs, while wearing down the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with daily shelling, killing its finest fighters and media activists who are the well-known targets on the front lines.

The Regime has no problem with continuing in the current situation, as long as the loyal coastal cities and the capital remain under its control, as every day its enemies turn into friends and allies. Washington has shifted its prompt calls for Assad's overthrow to fighting terrorism, while its military operations moved to Pentagon to fight Daesh (ISIS) alone. The tactic is to fight and defeat FSA divisions one by one in order to create new units supported by the Pentagon to fight Daesh in Deir al-Zour and Northern rural areas of Syria. Other units seek to join the Pentagon program to receive extra funding in exchange for sending troops daily to fight Daesh, in what seems to be a failed strategy with no significant  advances on defeating the extremist organization for over a year now.

With the increasing influence of the Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces in the north and their attempts to take leadership of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan Province) by controlling the cities of Manbij and Jarabulus, there will be new fronts for FSA to defend against such attempts to appropriate Syrian territory. This pits the FSA against the Syrian Regime, Daesh and the Syrian Democratic Forces, not to mention the back-stabbing by Islamic battalions close by. So, what will the FSA do?

We no longer hear of great battles led by the FSA, but rather about limited clashes and attrition battles with the Islamist factions designed to protect and strengthen some areas, or to regain control over areas dominated by the Regime or Daesh. The battles for Hama and Aleppo have yet started. As for Al Raqqa’s, if that happens it will not be a piece of cake for the FSA, as such a battle will be under the US and Russia, with a possible participation by the Regime, which would give it a clear pathway towards Tabqa airport and Palmyra. Thus the Syrian Democratic Forces and Assad’s army (with coalition and Russian Air Force support) will be the key players.

The FSA maintained its positions in the north through some of its factions, which are now static, drowning in the swamp of external aid. Other factions are going about their business as they reinforce their control and power over their areas. They have begun to establish relief societies, schools and bakeries, thereby turning into yet another battalion working in relief and commerce without being able to reach the point of self-funding that would enable them to cut the cord of external support and achieve independence and triumph.

The FSA now enjoys relatively easy movement in northern Syria without being under siege, as is the case in Homs city or Eastern Ghouta in Damascus. However, despite this freedom of movement over large areas, the FSA is caged within the boundaries of international red lines which can’t be crossed. “Nubl and Al-Zahraa” is a red line. “Al-Fu'ah & Kafriya” is a red line. Coastal areas are a red line. People Protection Units areas are a red line. Crossing these lines could result in attacks, possibly from the very parties supporting the FSA.

In Southern Syria, in Daraa province, the FSA military operations have been on hold for nearly a year, except for several battles against Daesh divisions. The FSA lost its momentum in rural areas of Damascus and Ghouta. It is fighting alone and under siege against al-Qaeda, its eternal enemy, in addition to defending the large fronts with the Regime to prevent any advancement. And it is unable to break this siege whether in Darya, Ghouta or rural Homs as it has been left alone in these areas without any back-up or support.

The main purpose behind containing the opposition in the Geneva talks for eight months was to force the FSA to stop fighting and drain its support while continuously arming and fortifying Regime areas. The alleged truce is proof of this. It was imposed by Russia and the US on parties in Syria and included demands to constantly fight against Daesh and Al Nusra Front, while giving legitimacy to aerial bombardment closing in onto FSA controlled areas, and validity to the presence of Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi militias by including them as parties to the truce. The aim is to create dissent and send a threatening message to the FSA through the use of internationally prohibited weapons like phosphorus and cluster bombs, which gives the green light for Russia and Assad to wipe out any area they want while the US and Europe turn a blind eye.

Hardly a week goes by without a prominent activist, leader, commander or lead fighter being assassinated, as part of a systematic strategy to cause the failure of the revolution’s work. These incidents go unnoticed and their perpetrators are not held accountable as they occur far “away from home”. But what some FSA officials do not realize is that the day will come when it will be them, or one of their own, who is assassinated.

The Future of the Free Syrian Army

If the FSA continues on its current path, as the tool of forces with external agendas (whether or not these align with the FSA’s projects), it will enter into a maelstrom without a end. The FSA will be the party that causes Syria to be divided, and the Kurds to establish a state of their own in Syria. The FSA will help the restructuring of the Regime's army, and the destruction of Syria under the pretext of the “war on terrorism”. Opposition activists will be placed under surveillance and scrutiny by the next regime, which will not include the FSA, nor revolution figures, and which will expel tens of thousands of families from the country, just like in 1982 after Hafez al-Assad's war on the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama.

If the FSA does not act like an internationally powerful force with ownership of a leading project in Syria, it will be out of the equation and will lose its place to civil society organizations, with their dubious role in the Syrian revolution, and to fake opposition characters who are working to give Assad’s Regime a new look.

The FSA will be held accountable not only for what it has done, but also for what it should have done when the need arose. FSA leaders residing in Turkey, Jordan, and Europe are ready to give up certain of their battles, and even the basics and fundamentals of the revolution, in order to strengthen international relationships that support their current authority and give them hope for the future. If the FSA’s on-the-ground soldiers had dismissed their leaders, renounced external support and returned to the principles of the revolution as it was in 2012, when the FSA would self-arm from the gains of successful battles against the Regime, the situation would have been much better for the fighters, despite the fragmentation of loyalties.

The decision of the FSA’s 101st Infantry Division, operating in northern Syria, to abandon international support that came at the price of silence regarding the administrative and financial corruption of their allies, is a first step towards demonstrating the possibility of returning to the revolution’s independence. But are other divisions willing to follow the example, or will they just carry on?

by Rami Alhames at June 29, 2016 10:24 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Zanoza.kg: Rising from the Wreckage of Kyrgyzstan's Largest Russian-Language Newspaper
Kyrgyzstan's revolution in April 2010 cost up to a hundred lives and was followed by ethnic violence killing over 400 people in the country's south. Wikipedia image.

Kyrgyzstan's revolution in April 2010 cost up to a hundred lives and was followed by ethnic violence killing over 400 people in the country's south. Wikipedia image.

The story of the rise and fall of the news portal Vb.kg is one of the most dramatic and contested in the history of independent media in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.

The name Vecherniy Bishkek is most often associated with the large-circulation Russian language newspaper that a series of governments in the Central Asian republic of six million people have sought to control.

After toeing the line of the authoritarian government prior to 2010 Kyrgyz revolution — a spontaneous uprising against a background of rising living costs and massive corruption — the paper developed a reputation for its critical line towards the new government, and won praise from international observers for its objective reporting on ethnic violence in the country in 2010.

In the years following that violence, in which roughly 500 people died, the newspaper's online arm, Vb.kg, also came to the fore as one of the country's most widely-read and trusted websites.

The government struggling to establish its authority over the country liked neither, with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev even sensationally accusing the outlet's reporters of causing the death of his mother and brother from stress-related illnesses in 1996 and 2015 respectively.

By 2015 the outlet was fending off defamation lawsuits from two close advisors of Atambayev at the same time as its parent company was the subject of a bitter legal battle with a former co-owner, who claimed to to have been cheated out of his stake when the company was restructured a decade earlier.

Vecherniy Bishkek depicted Aleksandr Ryabushkin's bid to take back his part of the company as a government ploy to destroy a critical voice in the media, while the government denied that it had any role in an “ownership dispute” between Ryabushkin and his one-time business partner Alexander Kim.

But the extent to which the government went to trash Vecherniy Bishkek aroused suspicions that this was not the case.

In May, for instance, the state-owned OTRK channel aired several times a controversial 25-minute smear segment calling Vecherniy Bishkek, “a business of lies” and accusing the group of being a front for the political interests of the hated Bakiyev family ousted from the country in the 2010 violence.

By the end of last August, court rulings had disowned the reclusive Kim of his interests in Vecherniy Bishkek.

Among the assets transferred to Aleksandr Ryabushkin was the company's printing press — a strategically valuable asset in a small country where newspapers often depend on contributions from businesses and politicians to meet publishing costs.

Many of the staff that worked for Vb.kg meanwhile moved over to a new startup Zanoza.kg, which rapidly became one of the country's top news websites according to the online rankings of Liveinternet.ru, as Vb.kg's online presence dipped under new leadership.

Zanoza.kg's Editor-in-Chief Dina Maslova, who previously ran Vb.kg, spoke to Global Voices about the challenges facing independent media in the country of six million people.

Global Voices: According to the Freedom House media watchdog, Kyrgyzstan has Central Asia's freest media, but is not actually free. Do you agree with that analysis? What features sum up the state of Kyrgyzstan's media space today?

Фридом Хаус подчеркивает, что Кыргызстан – самая свободная страна в регионе. Посмотрите, какие авторитарные страны нас окружают, среди них, да, Кыргызстан – свободная страна. Но, во-первых, Фридом Хаус отмечает, что ситуация в Кыргызстане ухудшается. Во-вторых, я против того, чтобы останавливаться на достигнутом, сравнивая себя с худшими. В любой ситуации, не только в оценке свободы СМИ, нужно сравнивать себя с лучшими и стремиться развиваться. Если сравниваешь себя с худшими, то отпадает стремление двигаться дальше, так начинается деградация. С таким же успехом можно говорить, что в Кыргызстане в отличие от самых бедных африканских стран есть дороги, канализация и электричество. Это не стимулирует развиваться. А вот когда посмотришь, как живут развитые страны, то хочется тянуться.

Что касается характеристик СМИ Кыргызстана, то я бы выделила следующие:

Сужается пространство для свободы слова. Когда речь идет о свободе СМИ, то тут вопрос не в свободе написания статей о спорте или шоу-бизнесе, а о выражении мнения о политике и действиях руководства страны. В интернет-пространстве популярные ресурсы с альтернативными властям точками зрения – “Азаттык” и Zanoza.kg. Остальные находятся под влиянием аппарата президента. Двух-трех ресурсов мало для нашего информационного поля. Редакционную политику на ТВ также диктует аппарат президента. Те телеканалы, на которые он не влияет, или ничего не говорят о политике и “Белом доме”, или настолько непопулярны, что на них не обращают внимания. Тиражных газет с независимым мнением в Кыргызстане тоже не осталось, развлекательные газеты я не учитываю.

Уровень кыргызскоязычных СМИ остается низким, потому что они по-прежнему принадлежат политикам или находятся также под контролем пресс-службы президента. Это одна из причин того, почему продолжают существовать так называемые ушаки. Власти выгодно иметь такую площадку для компромата. И по некоторым темам заметно, что слив делается именно из “Белого дома”.

Серьезно беспокоит ситуация в судебных инстанция. Суды находятся под полным контролем властей, поэтому при их желании СМИ могут через суды отобрать или обанкротить. Политически мотивированные процессы рассматривают одни и те же судьи, которые в нарушение многих процессуальных и иных норм навешивают на СМИ многомиллионные иски – якобы ущербы, где цифры взяты с потолка.
Низкий уровень финансирования за счет рекламных средств тормозит развитие СМИ.

Остается проблема с кадрами. Но это проблема системная в нашей стране. Такого не может быть, чтобы в одной сфере все было хорошо, а в остальных все плохо.

Dina Maslova: Freedom House says that Kyrgyzstan is the freest country in the region. But look at the authoritarian countries surrounding us! For sure, in comparison to them, Kyrgyzstan is free. But Freedom House also notes the situation in Kyrgyzstan is getting worse.

Secondly, I am against the idea of resting on your laurels and comparing yourself with the worst there is. In any situation, not only in media freedom, you need to compare yourself to the best and aspire to be better. If you compare yourself with the worst, then the impulse to move forward is lost. That is where stagnation sets in.

You can say with the same assuredness that in comparison with the poorest countries in Africa, Kyrgyzstan has roads, sewage and electricity. But that won't stimulate further development. On the other hand, when you look at how the most developed countries live, you want to move in that direction.

In terms of the features of the media space in Kyrgyzstan I would say the following things:

  • Space for freedom of speech is growing more restricted. When people talk about freedom of press they are not talking about the ability to write articles about sport or show business, but the ability to express opinions about politics and the actions of the national leadership. Of the most popular online media only two have editorial platforms differing from that of the government: [U.S. Congress-funded] Azzatyk and Zanoza.kg. The rest are under the influence of the presidential apparatus. Two or three [independent] outlets is not enough. Television content is also dictated by the presidential apparatus. Those television channels that [the president] does not influence either say nothing about the executive branch or are so unwatched that nobody pays attention to them. There are no newspapers left that have both an independent editorial position and a significant distribution.
  • Court rulings against media outlets are a source of serious concern. The courts are under the complete control of the government, and for this reason media outlets can be appropriated or bankrupted at a whim. The very same judges consider these politically motivated cases every time. Huge damages, with figures taken out of the sky, are pinned on journalists against a background of multiple procedural and other violations [on the part of justices].
  • Kyrgyz-language press remains poor in terms of quality because outlets belong to politicians or remain under the control of the presidential press service. That is why these newspapers are dominated by political mudslinging. For the authorities it is useful to have these platforms, and judging by some of the content in these newspapers, it is very apparent that it is the executive branch that is slinging the mud.
  • Media suffers from a low level of finance due to an absence of advertising income, which in turn stymies the development of the local press.
  • There are problems related to human resources, which are systemic in our country. If one field suffers from this problem, so will others.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev (left) has been Kyrgyzstan's president since 2011 and is constitutionally bound to leave office in 2017. The country has become less authoritarian under his government, but shows regular signs of backsliding.

Almazbek Atambayev (left) has been Kyrgyzstan's president since 2011 and is constitutionally bound to leave office in 2017. The country has become less authoritarian under his government, but shows regular signs of backsliding. His foreign policy has been strongly pro-Russian.

GV: If we assume that Vecherniy Bishkek was in fact seized under government orders, why was the company so important to the government? After all, newspapers’ circulations are shrinking across the planet, and the online team was always going to find another home…

Медиа-холдинг “Вечерний Бишкек” мог сохранять независимость, благодаря финансовой устойчивости. Это одна из немногих медиа-кампаний, которая не нуждалась в финансовых вливаниях донорских организаций, политических партий и пр. Независимость означает непредсказуемость для власти. А непредсказуемости власть всегда боится. Прошло достаточно времени, чтобы проанализировать ситуацию. Захват нужен был тем людям из окружения, которые расценивали “ВБ” как финансовый ресурс. То есть, например, Атамбаеву “ВБ” как источник дохода не нужен, но “помощникам помощников”/ “советникам советников” и ниже по иерархии это вполне доходный бизнес. Как информационный ресурс “ВБ” все еще интересен. В холдинг входили три газеты: несмотря на то, что тиражи печатных СМИ в Кыргызстане и мире снижаются, “ВБ” оставался влиятельным ресурсом, а у интернет-сайта vb.kg к тому времени тоже была большая аудитория (более 400 тыс. пользователей в месяц). Сейчас многие говорят, что какие-то российские группы через наших чиновников решили захватить “Вечерний Бишкек”, чтобы редакционная политика была более предсказуемой. Не могу это утверждать, но редакционная политика на самом деле стала пророссийской, причем безальтернативно пророссийской.

DM: The media holding Vecherniy Bishkek was one of the few in Kyrgyzstan that was able to maintain independence thanks to its financial sustainability. It did not depend on contributions from donor organisations, political parties and so on.

For the government, independence equates to unpredictability, and government will always fear unpredictability. Now enough time has passed to analyse the situation.

I think the seizure of VB was driven by allies [of President Atambayev] that viewed the holding as a financial resource. That is to say that at the level of Atambayev himself, VB is not needed as a source of income, but at the level of “helpers of the helpers”, or “advisors to the advisors” and further down the hierarchy, it is a very good business to reap profit from.

Moreover, VB is of interest [to authorities] as an information resource. There were three newspapers in the holding in total. Not withstanding the fact that newspaper circulations in Kyrgyzstan, as the world over, are down, VB remains a very influential resource, while the internet website vb.kg had a big audience — 400,000 users a month — at the time it was seized.

Currently, many people say that some kind of Russian groups decided via our state officials to seize Vecherniy Bishkek so that the editorial policy would become more predictable. I cannot confirm this, but the editorial policy has become pro-Russian, and from what I can see, consistently pro-Russian.

GV: Do you miss Vb.kg?

Нет, не скучаю. Если я закрываю за собой дверь, то ни о чем и ни о ком не вспоминаю. Новый проект – Zanoza.kg – помог начать многое с чистого листа для меня как журналиста и как для медиа-менеджера. Я уже не совершают некоторые управленческие ошибки, которые имели место быть в “ВБ”. И самое важное, сейчас я не исполнитель, а учредитель издания. Мне требуются другие компетенции, чтобы его развивать. Считаю, что собственное развитие – это важный плюс.

DM: No, I don't. When I close the door, I close the door.  Zanoza.kg helped me turn over a new leaf in many senses as a journalist and media manager.

I no longer make the type of executive mistakes I sometimes made at VB. And most importantly, I am now a founder, rather than just a manager. That means a different set of demands in terms of developing the outlet. Personal development is always a big plus.

GV: Zanoza.kg has become one of the country's leading media outlets in a very short space of time. How do you explain this?

- У меня остались мои страницы в социальных сетях, которые обеспечили нам стартовую площадку. Они на момент создания Zanoza.kg давали нам 5 000 посетителей в день. Сейчас наша аудитория в сутки 20-22 тысячи.
- Это команда. У нас небольшая, но профессиональная команда, которая тоже училась на своих ошибках и развивалась в период работы в “ВБ”. Сам факт того, чтобы мы теперь сами себе хозяева и сами на себя работаем, заставляет нас работать активнее.
- Уход команды vb.kg был громким событиям в медиа-сфере Кыргызстана. Эта новость сразу привлекла внимание многих. За нами пошли наши партнеры и наши источники, с которыми мы много лет работали.
- То, что мы являемся медиа-ресурсом с альтернативной точкой зрения, привлекает аудиторию. Образованным людям неинтересно читать только пропагандистские или, по крайней мере, люди сравнивают информацию в нескольких источникам и делают вывод сами. На самом деле аудиторию не обманешь приукрашенными заявлениями политиков – люди живут в реальном мире и видят то, что вокруг них происходит. В каких-то моментах они находятся схожие взгляды в наших материалах.

- У нас стало больше развлекательных материалов – это тренд в Интернете, который мы используем.

DM: Zanoza.kg became popular in a short space of time for many reasons:

  • I still retained my social media accounts, that guaranteed us a platform. [Currently Vecherniy Bishkek's parent company is suing Maslova as it claims the accounts belong to it. Maslova says the accounts were registered in her name and against her bank account]. They gave Zanoza.kg a viewership of 5,000 visitors per day. Now our audience is around 20-22,000 per day.
  • The fact that we are a media resource with an alternative viewpoint attracts readers. Educated people do not want to read propaganda, or, at least, want to read news from several different angles and draw their own conclusions. Our readership is not fooled by the embellishments of our politicians, people live in the real world and see what is happening around them. In this sense, people find that our content reflects their own views.
  • Our team is small but professional, most of whom worked at, learned from their mistakes at and developed themselves at VB. The fact that we are our own owners and work on ourselves every day forces us to be more active.
  • The exit of the team that made Vb.kg [from the Vb.kg holding] was a very notable event in Kyrgyz media circles. When we left, our partners and sources that we had built up over the years came with us.
  • We began using multimedia formats very actively, which is something we began at vb.kg.
  • We began to publish more articles on entertainment — it is a global online trend that we too have tapped into.
In Bishkek, a city of one million people, most people consume media in Russian. Beyond the confines of the capital, the Turkic Kyrgyz language dominates. Flickr image.

In Bishkek, a city of one million people, most people consume media in Russian. Beyond the confines of the capital, the Turkic Kyrgyz language dominates. Flickr image.

GV: Last October, when a group of prisoners broke out of a jail in Kyrgyzstan, Zanoza.kg was the only website to provide drone footage of the police operation to catch them. Given that several countries in the region, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have tightened restrictions on drone use, what future do you think drones have in the Kyrgyz media space?

Беспилотник мы попросили у партнеров в продакшн-студии. На самом деле нас об этом попросили сами милиционеры. Они не могли найти террориста, который спрятался в огромной новостройке, где очень похожие дома и улицы. Думали, что с помощью дрона смогут его найти, но не получилось. Беспилотники – сейчас новомодная штучка, которые используют СМИ. Они будут использовать ее и дальше, но аудитория будет расценивать это как что-то привычное.

DM: The drone was a request we made to our partners at a local production-studio [drone.kg]. And the police was actually keen for us to do that.

They could not find the terrorists [Editorial note: there was much debate in Kyrgyzstan as to whether the men that broke from the jail were Islamic militants, or just common criminals] who were hiding in a huge new housing settlement full of houses and streets that looked the same. They thought the use of a drone might help, but it did not.

Drones are now very much in fashion. Media will continue to use them and the media's audience will come to expect it.

GV: There is a lot of talk of an “information war” being played out in Kyrgyzstan's media between Washington and Moscow. Do you think that is a fair analysis?

Информационная война в КР – часть глобальной информационная войны. Она была, есть и будет. Но пока Москва и Вашингтон воюют в информационном поле, Пекин отвоевывает экономические проекты в Кыргызстане, при этом растет влияние арабского мира в нашей стране. Меня больше беспокоит это.

DM: The information war in Kyrgyzstan is a part of the broader global information war. It has always been and always will be.

But while Moscow and Washington wage a war in the information space, China is bedding down its economic interests in Kyrgyzstan and the influence of [Middle Eastern countries] over our country is ever-increasing.

These trends bother me a lot more.

by Akhal-Tech Collective at June 29, 2016 06:35 PM

Joi Ito
Society in the Loop Artificial Intelligence

Black and White Gavel in Courtroom - Law Books
Photo by wp paarz via Flickr - CC BY-SA

Iyad Rahwan was the first person I heard use the term society-in-the-loop machine learning. He was describing his work which was just published in Science, on polling the public through an online test to find out how they felt about various decisions people would want a self-driving car to make - a modern version of what philosophers call "The Trolley Problem." The idea was that by understanding the priorities and values of the public, we could train machines to behave in ways that the society would consider ethical. We might also make a system to allow people to interact with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and test the ethics by asking questions or watching it behave.

Society-in-the-loop is a scaled up version of human-in-the-loop machine learning - something that Karthik Dinakar at the Media Lab has been working on and is emerging as an important part of AI research.

Typically, machines are "trained" by AI engineers using huge amounts of data. The engineers tweak what data is used, how it's weighted, the type of learning algorithm used and a variety of parameters to try to create a model that is accurate and efficient and making the right decisions and providing accurate insights. One of the problems is that because AI, or more specifically, machine learning is still very difficult to do, the people who are training the machines are usually not domain experts. The training is done by machine learning experts and the completed model after the machine is trained is often tested by experts. A significant problem is that any biases or errors in the data will create models that reflect those biases and errors. An example of this would be data from regions that allow stop and frisk - obviously targeted communities will appear to have more crime.

Human-in-the-loop machine learning is work that is trying to create systems to either allow domain experts to do the training or at least be involved in the training by creating machines that learn through interactions with experts. At the heart of human-in-the-loop computation is the idea of building models not just from data, but also from the human perspective of the data. Karthik calls this process 'lensing', of extracting the human perspective or lens of a domain expert and fit it to algorithms that learn from both the data and the extracted lens, all during training time. We believe this has implications for making tools for probabilistic programming and for the democratization of machine learning.

At a recent meeting with philosophers, clergy and AI and technology experts, we discussed the possibility of machines taking over the job of judges. We have evidence that machines can make very accurate assessments of things that involve data and it's quite reasonable to assume that decisions that judges make such as bail amounts or parole could be done much more accurately by machines than by humans. In addition, there is research that shows expert humans are not very good set setting bail or granting parole appropriately. Whether you get a hearing by the parole board before or after their lunch has a significant effect on the outcome, for instance. (There has been some critiques of the study cited in this article, and the authors of the paper of responded to them.)

In the discussion, some of us proposed the idea of replacing judges for certain kinds of decisions, bail and parole as examples, with machines. The philosopher and several clergy explained that while it might feel right from a utilitarian perspective, that for society, it was important that the judges were human - it was even more important than getting the "correct" answer. Putting aside the argument about whether we should be solving for utility or not, having the buy-in of the public would be important for the acceptance of any machine learning system and it would be essential to address this perspective.

There are two ways that we could address this concern. One way would be to put a "human in the loop" and use machines to assist or extend the capacity of the human judges. It is possible that this would work. On the other hand, experiences in several other fields such as medicine or flying airplanes have shown evidence that humans may overrule machines with the wrong decision enough that it would make sense to prevent humans from overruling machines in some cases. It's also possible that a human would become complacent or conditioned to trust the results and just let the machine run the system.

The second way would be for the machine to be trained by the public - society in the loop - in a way that the people felt that that the machine reliability represented fairly their, mostly likely, diverse set of values. This isn't unprecedented - in many ways, the ideal government would be one where the people felt sufficiently informed and engaged that they would allow the government to exercise power and believe that it represented them and that they were also ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Maybe there is way to design a machine that could garner the support and the proxy of the public by being able to be trained by the public and being transparent enough that the public could trust it. Governments deal with competing and conflicting interests as will machines. There are obvious complex obstacles including the fact that unlike traditional software, where the code is like a series of rules, a machine learning model is more like a brain - it's impossible to look at the bits and understand exactly what it does or would do. There would need to be a way for the public to test and audit the values and behavior of the machines.

If we were able to figure out how to take the input from and then gain the buy-in of the public as the ultimate creator and controller of this machine, it might solve the other side of this judicial problem - the case of a machine made by humans that commits a crime. If, for instance, the public felt that they had sufficient input into and control over the behavior of a self-driving car, could the public also feel that the public, or the government representing the public, was responsible for the behavior and the potential damage caused by a self-driving car, and help us get around the product liability problem that any company developing self-driving cars will face?

How machines will take input from and be audited and controlled by the public, may be one of the most important areas that need to be developed in order to deploy artificial intelligence in decision making that might save lives and advance justice. This will most likely require making the tools of machine learning available to everyone, have a very open and inclusive dialog and redistribute the power that will come from advances in artificial intelligence, not just figure out ways to train it to appear ethical.

by Joi at June 29, 2016 01:04 PM

DML Central
Watchworthy Wednesday: Infographics Showcase Edtech, eLearning, Gamification

Infographics: they pack facts and stats with colorful visuals; the best ones teach you something in a quick and alluring way. That’s why I’m digging this website: elearninginfographics.com. It curates some of the most informative infographics on topics including edtech, e-learning (blended and mobile learning, distance education, instructional design), MOOCs (massive open online courses), school (from preschool to adult education), gamification and social learning. There are so many, I stopped counting after 100. But, I picked three recent ones that I think the DML community might find useful.

This one gives a timeline on education’s evolution from the chalkboard classroom to virtual reality field trips:

The Future of Online Schools Infographic

This one offers pointers on how to teach using Twitter:
Teaching with Twitter Infographic

And, this one features the results of a survey that asked teachers about technology in their classrooms:
EdTech and Teachers' Dream Classroom Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

The post Watchworthy Wednesday: Infographics Showcase Edtech, eLearning, Gamification appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at June 29, 2016 01:00 PM

June 28, 2016

Global Voices
Political Sniping Follows India's Failure to Win Nuclear Suppliers Group Membership
Current Member States f the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Image by Lofo7 via Wikimedia Commons.

Current member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Image by Lofo7 via Wikimedia Commons.

India was riding high on the hope of joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when it applied for membership on May 12. However, all hopes seemed to be dashed in NSG’s plenary meetings on 23-24 June in Seoul, where in the face of sturdy opposition from China and others, India’s entry into the NSG could not be confirmed.

The NSG was established in the immediate aftermath of India's first successful nuclear bomb test Pokhran I in 1974, which made India the first state outside of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to conduct nuclear tests. Despite India’s insistence that the nuclear tests were conducted for peaceful purposes, it caused a stir in the international political climate, forcing several states to embark on a mission to curb proliferation with renewed vigor.

NSG today works towards non-proliferation across the globe by controlling nuclear and nuclear-related exports, ensuring that nuclear technology transfer for peaceful purposes do not contribute to proliferation. NSG consists of 48 member states currently, which includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi meeting the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Mr. David Cameron, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit 2016, in Washington DC on April 01, 2016. Image via Wikimedia Commons. BY-SA 2.0

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Mr. David Cameron, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit 2016, in Washington DC on April 01, 2016. Image via Wikimedia Commons. BY-SA 2.0

India as a rising power wants to have a greater say in making the rules of the game that govern international politics and is also eyeing nuclear import benefits that it would derive from an NSG membership. Prime Minister Modi has given the matter priority on his foreign policy agenda, evidenced by his visits to Switzerland and Mexico as it became known that they had reservations about India's induction.

However, even though Mexico could be convinced to favour India's entry, Switzerland refused to budge from its position. Hence, in the face of opposition from the likes of Switzerland and China, India might have to wait a little longer before its NSG dream is realized.

The failure of the incumbent central government to attain NSG membership has invited a barrage of criticism from various opposition parties. Prime Minister Modi particularly has been at the receiving end of the vitriol as many have accused him of failing to demonstrate astute diplomatic skills in garnering support for India's induction.

Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the main opposition party Indian National Congress  tweeted after it became known that India was not getting an immediate entry into the NSG:

Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashish Khetan reminded followers of India's procurement of the NSG waiver in 2008 amidst similar opposition from China, blaming Modi squarely for his diplomatic failure:

Delhi's current Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal pointed out the futility of Modi's foreign visits:

Modi's failure to obtain for India a place at the NSG has been compared frequently with the 2008 NSG waiver in which India had got a nuclear trade license after being barred from being able to do so for nearly three decades prior.

However, many have come forward in support of Modi and spoken against the antagonistic politics, such as author and entrepreneur Suhel Seth and CNN-IBN politics editor Pallavi Ghosh:

Others have focused on the significance of India's entry into the NSG, like commentator Brahma Chellaney and India Today editor Shiv Aroor:

India has identified China as the chief conniver in blocking its NSG membership on the grounds that India is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. China’s opinion was echoed by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Turkey.

However, there is still a fighting chance for India to be included in the NSG, media reports suggest. The US seems particularly keen on having India inducted and discussions towards that end could begin towards the end of the year.

NSG is not likely to be the last stop for India since it also covets memberships to the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australian Group — all in an effort to provide itself leverage in nuclear politics of the world. In this context, NSG is of critical importance to India. However, it remains to be seen how India overcomes the China hurdle on its path to NSG inclusion and if Modi succeeds in his diplomatic manoeuvre to get India admitted into NSG — the good peoples’ nuke club.

by Sohini Chatterjee at June 28, 2016 09:50 PM

5 Accounts From Female Political Prisoners That Recall the Horrific Torture Under Brazil’s Military Dictatorship
Dilma Rousseff em julgamento durante a ditadura militar | Foto: Arquivo Público de São Paulo

Dilma Rousseff on trial during the military dictatorship. Photo: São Paulo Public Archive

As Brazil grapples with one of the deepest political crises of its history, another controversy has surfaced, this time during the vote on 17 April in the Chamber of Deputies to open an impeachment process against suspended President Dilma Rousseff.

It happened during the 316th vote. One of the deputies, who belonged to a group dedicating their decision to “god, the fatherland, and family”, openly lauded the torturer who directed the DOI-CODI, the entity controlled by the army that was responsible for the repression during Brazil's military dictatorship. Deputy Jair Bolsonaro proudly praised the memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who he also referred to as “the terror of Dilma Rousseff”.

His vote caused indignation both among those for and against impeachment. But the deputy — who is proud of his homophobic opinions — also seemed to create an opening for the slice of Brazil’s population that supports or minimizes the crimes committed by the state under the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

These are people who believe that, in the name of “saving Brazil from the communists”, the disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture were justified. Even in 2016, this group remains vocal – enough for “fans” of Brilhante Ustra’s Facebook page to increase by 3,300% in the week following the vote.

It was this same sentiment that aided the rise of dictatorships in South America during the second half of the 20th century. In Brazil, the regime left 191 dead and 243 disappeared, according to the National Truth Commission’s report, released at the end of 2014.

Brazil was the last of the South American countries to implement a national truth commission to investigate state crimes by their respective dictatorships — Chile, Argentina and Uruguay did this in the 1980s, soon after democratization, and repeated the exercise in the 2000s. And while other countries on the continent have taken important steps to revise amnesty laws, Brazil is still only beginning to discuss the matter. For Lorena Balardini, coordinator of the Centre of Legal and Social Studies, which is pioneering the investigation of historical memory in relation to the region’s dictatorships, Brazil “is the country which has progressed the least” regarding reconciliation with its military past.

Brilhante Ustra was the first of Brazil’s torturers recognized as such by the country's justice system, but he died last year, before he could be judged. The man responsible for directing one of the military dictatorship’s biggest centres of repression — from September 1970 to 1974, 502 cases of torture and more than 40 murders were reported — was brought to trial due to proceedings initiated by three of his victims.

In light of Deputy Bolsonaro's comments, Global Voices has gathered excerpts from five accounts from political prisoners, four of them as told to the National Truth Commission, which leave no doubt: torture was common practice in the military dictatorship. The testimonies have been edited for clarity.

‘They drilled through skin, flesh, bone’

Cristina Moraes de Almeida: she was not an activist, but had acquaintances in political movements. The student was imprisoned three times, and each time she encountered Ustra. During one of her stays, the torturers faked a rebellion in the cell to justify the wounds to her abdomen. In another, she had three fingers of her right hand and her left foot broken during a torture session.

In a session coordinated by Ustra — under the pseudonym Tibiriçá — and Sérgio Fleury, the colonel ordered that she be “punished” for “wearing long trousers in a public office”.

Cristina Moraes de Almeida –O Tibiriçá repetiu: “Tira a calça, esqueceu que não pode vir de calça em uma repartição pública?”, aos berros. Eu não vou tirar calça para nada. Estou quebrada, com dor.

Glenda Mezarobba (Comissão Nacional da Verdade) – Você estava vestida, até aí?

Cristina Moraes de Almeida – Estava vestida até aí, mas a calça bem desabotoada, bem desalinhada, já rasgada. “Com essa calça justa” – ele disse. – “Acaba de tirar a roupa dela!”. Minha calça estava bem desabotoada, bem… a blusa.

Glenda Mezarobba (Comissão Nacional da Verdade) – Ele mandou quem tirar sua roupa?

Cristina Moraes de Almeida – Os encapuzados. Eu comecei a me encolher. Ele puxou a perna, rasgando minha calça, acabando de rasgar a minha calça. Ele pega uma furadeira, e me furou daqui até aqui, com uma furadeira.

Glenda Mezarobba (Comissão Nacional da Verdade) – Com uma furadeira, uma furadeira?

Cristina Moraes de Almeida – Elétrica. Furadeira. Eu não vi mais nada. (…) Aí ligaram [a furadeira], porque o choque elétrico, não estava funcionando. (…) Nove meses sem caminhar. (…) Furaram o osso. Furaram derme, epiderme, o osso.

Cristina Moraes de Almeida: “Tibiriçá repeated, shouting, ‘Remove the trousers, did you forget you can’t wear trousers in a public office?’ I was not going to take off the trousers for anything. I was broken, with pain.”

Glenda Mezarobba (National Truth Commission): “You were clothed, up to that point?”

Cristina Moraes de Almeida: “I was clothed up to that point, but the trousers were unbuttoned, very disheveled, and already ripped. ‘With those tight trousers’, he said, ‘just take off her clothes!’ My trousers were quite unbuttoned, and… the blouse.”

Glenda Mezarobba (National Truth Commission): “Who did he order to remove your clothes?”

Cristina Moraes de Almeida: “The hooded men. I began to shrink back. He pulled my leg, ripping my trousers, finishing ripping my trousers. He took a drill, and stabbed me with it from here to here, with a drill.”

Glenda Mezarobba (National Truth Commission): “With a drill, a drill?”

Cristina Moraes de Almeida: “An electric one. A drill. I didn’t see anymore. […] They started that then [the drill], because the electric shocks were not working. […] Nine months not walking. […] They drilled the bone. They drilled through skin, flesh, bone.

‘There was a moment when I didn’t know where it hurt anymore’

Isabel Fávero: ex-guerrilla from the armed group VAR-Palmares (Revolutionary Armed Vanguard – Palmares). She and her husband were imprisoned on 5 May 1970, when they had already separated from the guerrilla group and were teachers dedicated to adult literacy in Nova Aurora, in Paraná state.

(…) o prazer deles era torturar um frente ao outro e dizer: “olhe, sua vadia, ó ele está apanhando por culpa sua que você não quer colaborar”, entendeu? (…) além de ser torturada física e psicologicamente, a mulher é vadia, a palavra mesmo era “puta”, “menina decente, olha para a sua cara, com essa idade, olha o que tu está fazendo aqui, que educação os teus pais te deram, tu é uma vadia, tu não presta”.

Enfim, eu não me lembro bem se no terceiro, quarto dia, eu entrei em processo de aborto. Eu estava grávida de dois meses, então, eu sangrava muito. Eu não tinha como me proteger, eu usava papel higiênico, e já tinha mal cheiro. Eu estava suja, e eu acho que, eu acho não, eu tenho quase certeza que eu não fui estuprada, porque era constantemente ameaçada, porque eles tinham nojo, tinham nojo de mim.

E eu lembro que no dia em que nós fomos presos, exatamente no dia 4, nós tínhamos estado em Cascavel, e quando a gente saiu da ginecologista, tinha um veículo militar, mas a gente em momento nenhum pensou que eles estivessem vigiando a gente, eles já estavam no encalço da gente, eles seguiram, não é, esse dia eles nos seguiram o dia todo, e o meu marido dizia, “por favor, não façam nada com ela, podem, podem me torturar, mas ela tá grávida”, e eles riam, debochavam, “isso é história, ela é suja, mas não tem nada a ver”, enfim.

Em nenhum momento isso foi algum tipo de preocupação, em relação [pausa, voz embargada]. Eu certamente abortei por conta dos choques que eu tive nos primeiros dias, nos órgãos genitais, nos seios, ponta dos dedos, atrás das orelhas, aquilo provocou obviamente um desequilíbrio, eu lembro que eu tinha, muita, muita, muita dor no pescoço, porque quando a gente, quem sofreu choque, sabe? A gente joga a cabeça pra trás, aí tinha um momento que eu não sabia mais aonde doía, o que, doía em todo lado, mas enfim. Certamente foi isso. E eles ficavam muito irritados de me ver suja e sangrando e cheirando mal, enfim. Eu acho que ficavam até com mais raiva, e me machucavam mais ainda.

[…] they took pleasure in torturing one of us in front of the other, saying, “Look, you bitch, oh, he’s taking the blame for you not wanting to cooperate”, you understand? Besides being tortured physically and psychologically, the woman is called a slut, the word really was “whore”, “decent girl, look at your face, at that age, look what you're doing here, with the education your parents gave you, you’re a slut, you’re worthless”.

In the end, I don’t really remember if it was the third, fourth day, I started to have a miscarriage. I was two months pregnant, then, I bled a lot. I had no way to protect myself, I used toilet paper, and I already smelled bad. I was dirty, and I think, no, I’m almost certain that I wasn’t raped – because I was constantly threatened – because they were repulsed by me.

And I remember that the day we were arrested, on the 4th exactly, we had been in Cascavel and when we left the gynecologist, there was a military vehicle, but no-one at the time thought that they were watching us, they were already tracking people, they followed, isn’t it, that day they followed us the whole day, and my husband said, “Please, don’t do anything to her, you can, you can torture me, but she’s pregnant”, and they laughed, mocked, “That’s bullshit, she is dirty, but that has nothing to do with it”, anyway.

At no moment was this a concern, about [pause, voice stifled]. I certainly aborted because of the beating I had over the first days, to the genital organs, the breasts, fingertips, behind the ears – that obviously provoked a disruption, I remember that I had a lot, a lot, a lot of pain in my neck, because when we suffered beatings, you know? We threw our heads back; there was a moment when I didn’t know where it hurt anymore, that it hurt everywhere, but anyway. It was certainly that. And they were very angry to see me dirty and bleeding and smelling bad, anyway. I think they became even angrier, and hurt me even more.

‘I served as a guinea pig for a torture class’

Dulce Chaves Pandolfi: student and member of the armed guerrilla group ALN (National Liberation Alliance). She was imprisoned on 20 August 1970, at the age of 21.

In testimony at the State Truth Commission of Rio de Janeiro, Dulce recounted, “When I entered, I heard a phrase that still today echoes in my ears: ‘Here there is no God, no fatherland, no family’”.

No dia 20 de outubro, dois meses depois da minha prisão e já dividindo a cela com outras presas, servi de cobaia para uma aula de tortura. O professor, diante dos seus alunos, fazia demonstrações com o meu corpo. Era uma espécie de aula prática, com algumas dicas teóricas. Enquanto eu levava choques elétricos, pendurada no tal do pau de arara, ouvi o professor dizer: “essa é a técnica mais eficaz”. Acho que o professor tinha razão.

Como comecei a passar mal, a aula foi interrompida e fui levada para a cela. Alguns minutos depois, vários oficiais entraram na cela e pediram para o médico medir minha pressão. As meninas gritavam, imploravam, tentando, em vão, impedir que a aula continuasse. A resposta do médico Amílcar Lobo, diante dos torturadores e de todas nós, foi: “ela ainda aguenta”. E, de fato, a aula continuou.

A segunda parte da aula foi no pátio. O mesmo onde os soldados, diariamente, faziam juramento à bandeira, cantavam o Hino Nacional. Ali fiquei um bom tempo amarrada num poste, com o tal do capuz preto na cabeça. Fizeram um pouco de tudo. No final, comunicaram que, como eu era irrecuperável, eles iriam me matar, que eu ia virar “presunto”, termo usado pelo Esquadrão da Morte. Ali simularam meu fuzilamento. Levantaram rapidamente o capuz, me mostraram um revólver, apenas com uma bala, e ficaram brincando de roleta-russa. Imagino que os alunos se revezavam no manejo do revólver porque a “brincadeira” foi repetida várias vezes.

On 20 October, two months after my imprisonment and already sharing the cell with other prisoners, I served as a guinea pig for a torture class. The teacher, in front of his students, did demonstrations with my body. It was a type of practical class, with some theoretical tips. I took electric shocks while hung in the “pau de arara” [torture technique common under the dictatorship] and I heard the teacher say “this is the most efficient technique”. I think the teacher was right.

As I began to feel ill, the class was interrupted and I was taken to the cell. A few minutes later, several officers entered the cell and asked for the doctor to measure my blood pressure. The girls screamed, begged, trying in vain to prevent the class continuing. The doctor Amilcar Lobo’s answer, in front of the torturers and all of us, was, “She can still take it.” And, indeed, the class continued.

The second part of the class was in the yard. The same where the soldiers, every day, pledged allegiance to the flag and sang the national anthem. There I spent a long time tied to a post, with a black hood over my head. They did a bit of everything. In the end, they said since I was irredeemable, they would kill me, I was going to become “presunto” [ham], a term used by the Death Squad. There they staged a mock shooting. They quickly raised the hood, showed me a gun with only one bullet, and were playing Russian roulette. I imagine that the students took turns in handling the gun because the “game” was repeated several times.

‘It is not heroic, you are maddeningly afraid’

Leslie Denise Beloque: ex-militant from the ALN. She was arrested on 29 January 1970, at the age of 21. Her brother, sister-in-law, and a sister were also imprisoned and tortured by the military regime.

A tortura é uma delas visivelmente, as pessoas ainda não conseguem falar dela, honestamente. Inclusive porque não é heroico, ter sido presa e ter sido torturada isso não te faz herói, não te torna heroica, não é uma experiência heroica. Muito pelo contrário: É humilhante, te humilha, é uma questão de extremo sofrimento, não é heróico, você tem medo adoidado, por várias vezes você tem medo quando você fica apavorado quando você ouve o barulho da chave, então não é só uma questão heroico, só bonita e só: “Ai nossa eu fui torturada.” Não, é trazer essas coisas de quantas vezes você teve um medo danado, o pavor em várias situações, você saber que toda a noite o cara te chama para te torturar, ou no plantão do fulano de tal que acabou de entrar. E discutir nessa dimensão, sem esse heroísmo, sem essa… Na forma em que ela é.

Claro que as pessoas que passaram por essa experiência, despojar esse caráter mítico e dizer a coisa como ela é, as sensações que você teve de coragem, de medo, de pavor, de tudo. Porque cada um é isso, foi buscando as suas estratégias de sobrevivência e foi assim, uns conseguiram e outros não. E a mim resta uma pergunta, resta essa questão: Será que os companheiros que provocaram a morte, foi por que perceberam que não iam aguentar? E a morte foi uma forma de garantir que ele não falaria?

Torture is one of those things obviously; people still cannot talk about it, honestly. Partly because it is not heroic; to have been arrested and tortured does not make you a hero, does not make you heroic, it is not a heroic experience. Quite the contrary: It's humiliating, it humiliates you, it is a matter of extreme suffering, it is not heroic, you are maddeningly afraid, often you are afraid when you panic because you hear the noise of a key, so it's not just a heroic matter, just beautiful and lonely, “Oh my goodness, I was tortured.” No, it is to carry these things with you, of how many times you felt a damn fear, a dread in so many situations, you know that all night the guy calls you to torture you, or it’s the turn of such-and-such guard who just entered. And discussing this aspect, without this heroism, without this … The way that torture actually is.

Of course, people who have experienced it strip away this mythical character and describe it as it is, the sensations that you have of courage, fear, dread, everything. Because it’s like that for each person, looking for survival strategies, some manage to do it, others don’t. For me there remains one question, just this issue: for those companions who committed suicide, was it because they thought they couldn’t bear it? And death was a way of guaranteeing that they wouldn’t talk?

‘The marks of torture are me. They are part of me.’

Dilma Rousseff: member of the VAR-Palmares and held prisoner for three years. In 2001, Dilma gave testimony to the Human Rights Commission of Minas Gerais, but her account only became public in 2012 in a report by the newspaper Estado de Minas.

“Tinha muito esquema de tortura psicológica, ameaças. Eles interrogavam assim: ‘Me dá o contato da organização com a polícia?’ Eles queriam o concreto. ‘Você fica aqui pensando, daqui a pouco eu volto e vamos começar uma sessão de tortura.’ A pior coisa é esperar por tortura.”

“Depois (vinham) as ameaças: ‘Eu vou esquecer a mão em você. Você vai ficar deformada e ninguém vai te querer. Ninguém vai saber que você está aqui. Você vai virar um ‘presunto’ e ninguém vai saber’. Em São Paulo me ameaçaram de fuzilamento e fizeram a encenação. Em Minas não lembro, pois os lugares se confundem um pouco.”

“Quando eu tinha hemorragia, na primeira vez foi na Oban (…) foi uma hemorragia de útero. Me deram uma injeção e disseram para não bater naquele dia. Em Minas, quando comecei a ter hemorragia, chamaram alguém que me deu comprimido e depois injeção. Mas me davam choque elétrico e depois paravam. Acho que tem registros disso no final da minha prisão, pois fiz um tratamento no Hospital das Clínicas.”

“Fiquei presa três anos. O estresse é feroz, inimaginável. Descobri, pela primeira vez, que estava sozinha. Encarei a morte e a solidão. Lembro-me do medo quando minha pele tremeu. Tem um lado que marca a gente o resto da vida.”

“As marcas da tortura sou eu. Fazem parte de mim.”

I had a routine of psychological torture and threats. They questioned like this: ‘Are you going to give me the organization’s contact with the police?’ They wanted concrete answers. ‘You stay there thinking, soon I'll be back and we'll start a torture session.’ The worst thing is waiting for torture.

Later, the threats. I’m going to lose my hand in you. You’re going to be deformed and no-one will want you. No one will know that you are here. You’re going to become a ‘presunto’ and no-one will know’. In “São Paulo they threatened me with shooting, and staged it. In Minas I don’t remember, as the places get jumbled a bit.

When I had a hemorrhage, the first time was in Oban […] it was a hemorrhage of the uterus. They gave me an injection and said not to beat me that day. In Minas, when I began to bleed, they called someone who gave me a pill and then an injection. But they gave me an electric shock and then stopped. I think that there are records of this at the end of my imprisonment, since I was treated in the Hospital das Clínicas [a medical complex].

I was imprisoned for three years. The stress is ferocious, unimaginable. I discovered, for the first time, that I was alone. I faced death and loneliness. I remember the fear when my skin trembled. It has an aspect that marks people for the rest of their lives.

The marks of torture are me. They are part of me.

by Liam Anderson at June 28, 2016 03:06 PM

‘Warcraft’ Movie Brings Out the Nostalgia in China's Online Gaming Generation
Warcraft's poster. Labelled for reuse.

Warcraft's poster. Labelled for reuse.

Warcraft, a Hollywood movie adapted from the famous multiplayer online game World of Warcraft (WoW), was released in China on June 8, and in the first five days, cumulative ticket sales reached $156 million there. In less than two weeks, the figure rose to $204 million.

Meanwhile, in North America, the movie's debut weekend brought in about $24 million, and since its release has hit $44 million total. With global cumulative ticket sales at $412 million, that means China has contributed to about half of the movie's box office earnings.

While the movie has been poorly ranked by western film critics, many wonder why it has surpassed other Hollywood movies in the Chinese market.

The studio behind Warcraft, Legendary Entertainment, was acquired by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda early this year. The local connection has helped the movie to develop marketing strategies that target the Chinese market and pull in a number of sponsors to boost ticket sales.

A major strategy was to promote the movie as a kind of game festival for China's Warcraft generation to dress up or meet like-minded players.

‘This movie is about our youth’

Warcraft was first introduced in mainland China in 2005. At that time, Internet was having a profound affect on Chinese young people. Online video games were new and appealing, not only for the games themselves but also for the opportunity they represented to set up a virtual community and make friendships.

The game was banned briefly in China in 2009, but hardcore fans still managed to find ways to access it. In a decade's time, China has become one of the biggest markets for Warcraft, with approximately two and a half million players. A lot of nostalgia surrounds the game for players who have been with Warcraft since it was first released.

During the movie's premiere week, in addition to professional cosplayers (people who dress up in costume and play the role of a character) appearing in major cinemas, some Warcraft fans also organized festival-like gatherings with game props and costumes in theaters. One user of popular Chinese social media site Weibo, @novapang, received a free ticket from his company and dressed up for the occasion with friends:

Image from Weibo user @Novapang

Image from Weibo user @Novapang

Another Weibo user, Xiao Di, reflected on the feelings of the Warcraft generation:

坐在电影院时就开始好激动 真的很激动 甚至眼泪挤一挤就能出来。05年开始玩魔兽,我是第一批老玩家,开始的一个蠢蠢的人类小牧师,一路加神圣天赋练到满级,这一路得多坎坷啊。不过认识了很多朋友。虽然现在已经不再联系,但是魔兽的日子里真的谢谢有你们陪我。陪我练级,陪我打副本[…]那时候真好。不过什么样的年龄就该做什么样的事情,那些美好会永远留在心里的某个地方。

Sitting in the cinema, I was overwhelmed and almost cried. I started playing Warcraft in 2005 and was among the first group of players. I started as a silly preacher [a role in the game] and fought my way to the top. I made so many friends in the process. Although I lost contact with most of them, I am really thankful for their friendship — they helped in training my gaming skills […] It was a great time. But we have to change according to our age and that golden time will still have a place somewhere [in our memories].

Hardcore fans like @lucifer333 rebuked film critics and praised the movie for its nostalgia:

那些不懂魔兽电影瞎b评论的评论员。你知道什么是魔兽世界么。玩明白了么。就说我们对电影失望。那么庞大世界观你给我拍一个我看看。电影足以看出导演的用心。这部电影是我们的青春。是一部怀旧篇。让我看到了以前青春时代奔跑过的草原。战斗过的雪山。和队友一起大步冲进去的黑暗之门。这就够了。

To those blind film critics who know nothing about Warcraft. Do you know what WoW is? Do you know how to play the game? Even if we are disappointed at the movie, it has presented a view of this universe. The director has spent much effort on that. This movie is about our youth, it is a nostalgic piece in which I see the grasslands where I ran around, the snowy mountain where I had my battles, the door of darkness that my team had run through. This is enough.

But some game players weren't so kind to the film. Mission 006 could not help expressing his disappointment:

魔兽看完比想象中要差…毕竟都是去看情怀,很怀念当年玩游戏的那段时光,电影人物较多,更像是cosplay大戏,不了解或者没玩过游戏的估计会看的很懵逼吧,战斗也不够恢宏,还是换个大手笔的导演比较好,等下一部吧

Warcraft is worse than I imagined…After all, people went there to pay tribute to their youth spent playing video games. There are many characters in the film, like a big cosplay performance. For those who have never played the game, they would definitely lose track. The battle scenes are not grand. Needs to have a director who can handle a big production. Let's wait for the next one.

@sk-roro criticized that the film had failed the game:

看过《魔兽》:除了当Cosplay看,影片质量无法满意。宏大的游戏故事明明可以讲的更好,一些游戏噱头讨了游戏粉一笑之后,散乱崩塌,问题到处都是。只希望后续能更好,我想看的是与游戏同样优秀的电影,不然还不如回去玩游戏。

Watched Warcraft: Can only see it as a cosplay show, the quality of the movie is unsatisfactory. The video game has such a grand story setting, but the film just only focuses on game gimmicks that appeal to the game fans. The storyline is scattered and flawed. I wish the next one is better as the game deserves a better movie. Or else why go to the cinema, let's just play the game.

And @Bibi-Bibi-Bibi-Bibi argued with his game team over the movie:

前天看完电影,出了电影院就和从前队友开始互掐。我当然怀念当初[…]我珍视那段岁月,上线是每一天的日子里唯一的正经事。我记得每一个温情快乐抓狂暴怒的瞬间,每一刻真实。但是你要强行说服我一部不懂魔兽史就看不懂的电影是部好电影。WTF!

Watched the movie and started arguing with my ex-gamemates after stepping out of the cinema. Of course, I miss the past […] the time when the only daily business is going online. I remember all the feelings — happy, angry, crazy feelings [when playing the game]. All these moments are real. But if you want to force me into saying that a movie which non-game players could not comprehend is a good movie, [my answer is] WTF!

Ghost screenings

Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan boasted that Warcraft's Chinese box office success has scared the Americans in the recent Shanghai International Film Festival:

Warcraft made 600 million RMB [$91 million] in two days — this has scared the Americans […] If we can make a film that earns 10 billion [$1.5 billion], then people from all over the world who study film will learn Chinese, instead of us learning English.

But while it certainly did well in ticket sales, some of its cinematic triumph was just hype, since the Warcraft movie also haunted by the phenomena of ghost screenings as a result of the large number of tickets pre-sold to corporations which financed or sponsored the film. Yoya-cc watched Warcraft with her boyfriend in one of the empty cinema halls and uploaded this photo to Weibo:

Ghost screening of the Warcraft. Image from Weibo.

Ghost screening of the Warcraft. Image from Weibo.

难得出门啊!就我俩在这么大场子看魔兽让我想起好多电影院的鬼故事八万说我照相技术没他好,都看不清人,所以我特意标注了他所在位置

This is a rare occasion. Just two of us in such big hall watching Warcraft. It reminded me of so many ghost stories about cinemas. My boyfriend said my photography skills are too poor and that he is barely visible in the photo. So I added an arrow to indicate where he was.

by Ruijun Xu at June 28, 2016 01:54 PM

Barbados-Born Author Austin Clarke Remembered as a ‘Pioneering Voice’
Barbadian-Canadian author Austin Clarke reading at a National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) event in Trinidad. Photo by Andrew Currie, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Barbadian-Canadian author Austin Clarke reading at a National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) event in Trinidad. Photo by Andrew Currie, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The Caribbean literary world is in mourning after learning of the death of Barbadian-Canadian writer Austin Clarke. The 81-year-old passed away on Sunday, June 26, 2016.

Clarke left Barbados in the mid-1950s to pursue his tertiary education at the University of Toronto; he became involved in the civil rights movement and began writing, publishing his first novel, The Survivors of the Crossing, in 1964. Through its main protagonist, — a canecutter — the story examined the effects of colonialism and slavery on politics and race relations in a pre-independence Barbados, but Clarke was perhaps best known for his novel The Polished Hoe, which won numerous literary accolades, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2002), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book Overall and the Trillium Book Award (both in 2003). Five years prior, he was also made a member of the Order of Canada.

Upon news of his death, tributes began to pour out on social media. Facebook user HoneyJam Barbados posted:

RIP to Literary giant Austin Clarke who died today in Toronto. He won many prestigious international awards for his writing. He was brilliant, witty, fearless, an activist, a poet, a humourist, an intellectual, always questioning and challenging the status quo, always holding people to account, sometimes courting controversy but willing to suffer the consequences of his opinions and convictions. He spoke his mind unafraid, he stirred the pot, he wanted us to know our history, to know our country, our culture, to not be ignorant of it, to look at ourselves and to always strive do better. He was widely acclaimed and celebrated but remained himself always. He was a citizen of the world but always belonged to Barbados. He was a proud native son.

Another Facebook user, Rick Halpern, lamented:

A huge loss. An important voice not just for Canada and the Caribbean but for the world

Indeed, Canadian netizens were also proud to claim him:

Trinidadian Jonathan Ali shared the effect Clarke's writing had on him:

RIP Austin Clarke. His very funny memoirs Pigtails ‘n’ Breadfruit and Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack are among my favourite volumes of Caribbean biography.

On the heels of the UK's European Union referendum, one Twitter user cheekily recommended the latter of those titles to Britons:

On the Facebook page Black Canadian Veterans Stories of War, the son of a Barbadian war veteran and poet posted a personal photo of a smiling Clarke in a tuxedo, pipe dangling from his mouth, explaining:

My dad's friend, author Austin Clarke passed away today. Both were born in Barbados and both loved poetry. Sentimemtal shot of Mr. Clarke, taken by my dad WWII veteran and Poet…Owen Rowe.

The Bocas Lit Fest — one of the Caribbean's most well regarded literary festivals — also acknowledged his passing:

Clarke's 2015 memoir, ′Membering, was longlisted for the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

On Twitter, Austin was remembered as gracious, generous and an authentic literary talent:

Other netizens — prolific writers and avid readers themselves — thought that Clarke's passing required taking a step back. Rhoda Bharath posted a photo of Clarke, saying:

I have to pause for this.
Transition well.

Patricia Worrell, who was weary of all the great losses the region has borne for the year thus far, added:

2016 strikes again.
RIP

by Janine Mendes-Franco at June 28, 2016 10:05 AM

Teacher Shortages Aren't Always Hopeless, Proves Human Rights Group in India
A Primary Education In Chennai, India. Image from Flickr by GlobalPartnership for Education. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Primary Education In Chennai, India. Image from Flickr by GlobalPartnership for Education. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The shortage of primary school teachers and facilities is a problem throughout India. According to a 2015 report, there was a shortage of 1.2 million teachers and almost half a million teaching posts were simply vacant. Recently, a citizen video depicting the teacher-shortage at a primary school in India's West Bengal prompted the authorities to install the required teachers.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, a law passed in 2009, describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between six and 14 in India and sets a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 30:1. A recent report by Oxfam found that 37 percent of the Indian government's primary schools lack adequate teachers due to insufficient funding, which in turn encourages students to drop out of school. More than 600,000 in-service teachers are untrained, Oxfam discovered, and—worse still—6,404 schools out of the approximate 760,000 primary schools in India do not have a teacher at all.

A few months ago, Soriya Banu (a community member of the international media and human rights organisation Video Volunteers) revealed that three teachers (including a temporary instructor and the principal) at a school in West Bengal each have to supervise roughly 200 children, varying from the ages of six to 12. According to the ratio mentioned in the Right to Education Act of 2009, the school needs at least five more teachers. Soriya writes:

Could the apathy towards the school be because only dalit and muslim children attend? One certainly hopes not. Yet the response from the Sub-Inspector of Schools sounds rather casual. “If the Head Master asks us for more teachers we will send him some from other schools.” Surely the Head Master has already made several such requests. And does this imply that other schools in the district are adequately staffed?

Below you can find Video Volunteers’ short film mentioned above.

Soriya went to several local administrative officers and showed them the video. Her efforts reached even Manas Chowbay, the school inspector from Kaliachak. He responded by sending a request to the chairman of region’s District Primary School Council, prompting the authorities to send a teacher to Uttar Dariyapur to fill the vacancy. Within six months of the report, the school got a permanent teacher and a head teacher, bringing the school's total faculty to four.

Akashi Tripathi writes about the reason for the teacher shortage in India:

The government run schools are reluctant towards filling up the vacant permanent posts of teachers for cutting up the costs. They do this by appointing teachers temporarily on an ‘ad hoc basis’. [..] By the time the ad hoc teachers understand the needs of the students, they have to leave their jobs in the same school or move to the next school. In a situation like this, teachers themselves also look for other opportunities which are more of a ‘permanent nature’ and when they can’t find them, they move in a different direction altogether.

The possibility of reaching state officials and winning some concessions on education appears to have become an inspiration for many throughout the country.

by Rezwan at June 28, 2016 07:52 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
The Meaning and Downsides of Academic Fellowship: What I Learned by Receiving the Harvey Fellowship

What does it mean to receive an academic fellowship? Are fellowships just polite language for recognition and money? Or do great fellowships offer something deeper by giving us meaningful networks of friendship and support?


This gif from a 2015 article uses a novel method called 'GLO-Roots' to visualize and compare
the growth of roots in water deficient (left) and control conditions (right).

Last weekend, I joined a four-day summer gathering of the Harvey Fellowship, which funds Christian gradstudents from any country or culture who are in top 5 programs for their fields. This fellowship is a new experience for me, since I've never accepted money from a religious source and I focus on non-partisan, non-religious research projects. When I do venture into matters of religion in my public identity, it's usually as a journalist, liveblogger, or facilitator rather than an advocate. So as I attended the summer institute, I was curious to see how the 25 or so other fellows understand these questions.

I have never been at a professional gathering where people were so open about their challenges, fears, and vulnerabilities as last week. Normally, gatherings of this kind open with speeches about how special we are. The Harvey organizers took the opposite approach, arguing that humility and faith were pre-requisites for long-term flourishing. The first four alumni speakers all told stories of unanticipated challenges in their lives that had completely reoriented their ideas of who they were. Rather than start with stories of success, the first speakers outlined challenges that an elite education could not help them overcome: infinite adjuncting, long-term family tragedies, post-partum depression, and pressure to compromise integrity. To live well through whatever might happen, they argued, we needed to ground our lives in our faith and build deep relationships that could weather the hardest challenges. A fellowship that couldn't offer that kind of support didn't deserve the name, they said.

Over the next three days, we reflected on the words of St Paul in Ephesians 4, which urges Christians to live out our callings with excellence, humility, and care for others. In group conversations, we listened to each other describe our hopes and challenges, and we spent many hours in prayer. We heard from high profile alums later in the week, with an emphasis on diverse identities and perspectives. One speaker was a conservative US senator. Another was Turkish scholar who offered pointed critiques of American Christianity's role in the world. As we argued through these issues in small groups, many fellows shared specific areas that the gathering had challenged our life and work. In our final session, we circled around each fellow for prayer in turn. I could tell that this group of peers could become a powerful source of inspiration and accountability in my life.

What Does the Harvey Fellowship Mean For My Work?

Throughout my PhD, I have worked to be transparent about my commitments to my audience and my research participants. So I want to be clear about what it means for me to accept funding from the Harvey Fellowship.

All applicants to the Harvey Fellowship are expected to affirm the Lausanne Covenant (wikipedia), a statement of confession and purpose affirmed by many evangelical Christians globally. It's a remarkable document that affirms a cosmopolitan vision for the role of Christians in faith, justice, and reconciliation. The covenant also argues for the central importance of indigenous Christian movements. I have long admired the Lausanne covenant and was happy to affirm it in this way.

In my six-essay Harvey Fellowship application (full contents here), I emphasized three ideas. The first idea is my focus on public interest research about online behavior. The second idea is my commitment to a form of leadership that is fundamentally about supporting inclusive networks to achieve their collective potential. My essays also explained to Christians the values behind my work by outlining the centrality of social justice in the early history of Christianity.

Intellectual independence is a basic part of the Harvey Fellowship, so I'm not expecting to change anything about the work I do. However, the fellowship does make some things more possible. The money is going to help me fund travel and research costs for my dissertation. I'm also putting some funds into research and ministry collaborations.

  

The Downsides of Fellowship
As an international student at Cambridge University in 2006, I remember watching the strong community within the Gates and Rhodes Scholarships from the outside. These elite scholarship recipients were marked out for special access to opportunities, and they benefitted from a powerful alumni network that fast-tracked people to the resources they needed to achieve their visions. Many of my friends in these circles have done meaningful work for good in the world, but I don't think I'll ever forget the palpable difference between being a runner up and being an insider of a strong, supportive community. Whenever I gain access to something exclusive, I always ask how I can leverage those networks to spread opportunity more widely (In this work, I continue to be inspired by my CivicMIT colleague and Rhodes scholar Joy Buolamwini). So when I applied to the Harvey Fellowship, I was already committed to continue that pattern.

I'll admit it; I came to last week's fellowship gathering expecting an elitist club. That was far from the case. I can genuinely say that the Harvey alumni are the most diverse, humble group of academics and professionals that I am connected to. They span a wide range of careers, status, and institutions, from small regional colleges to governments and corporations. Harvey alumni come from many different cultures, and their work ranges across the humanities, sciences, arts, and business. Distinctively, one of the ideas that brings everyone together is the Christian commitment to put others before ourselves. I hope we can stay true to that. Connecting with other Harvey Fellows has already made my social media experience dramatically more diverse along many political, cultural, and geographical dimensions.

But the Harvey fellowship is still an exclusive group. With that in mind, I'm planning to allocate some of my time and funds toward a project aimed at studying and expanding the fundraising capacities of people of color in Christian university ministry. After exploring the issue for the last six months, I'm currently negotiating the details of a research collaboration. At our gathering last week, two other fellows independently voiced the problems of POC ministry fundraising as one of the most strategically crippling problems facing our generation of Christians. I took it as confirmation that I was headed in a good direction.

Being a Fellow to Others
I have been very lucky to experience rich models of academic fellowship more than once: at the Center for Civic Media and through Harvard's Berkman Center. As I learn from the openness and care of those around me, I hope to continue to grow in my ability to foster that kind of community wherever I go. In the busy final year of my PhD, I continue to be thankful for everyone at MIT and Harvard, especially my advisor Ethan, for showing me how to care for people while also caring about my work. After several days with the Harvey Fellowship, I am excited to see those same values lived out among these new colleagues and friends.

by natematias at June 28, 2016 04:17 AM

June 27, 2016

Joi Ito
The Future of Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Minerva Priory library
The library at the Minerva Priory, Rome, Italy.

I recently participated in a meeting of technologists, economists and European philosophers and theologians. Other attendees included Andrew McAfee, Erik Brynjolfsson, Reid Hoffman, Sam Altman, Father Eric Salobir. One of the interesting things about this particular meeting for me was to have a theological (in this case Christian) perspective to our conversation. Among other things, we discussed artificial intelligence and the future of work.

The question about how machines will replace human beings and place many people out of work is well worn but persistently significant. Sam Altman and others have argued that the total increase in productivity will create an economic abundance that will enable us to pay out a universal "basic income" to those who are unemployed. Brynjolfsson and McAfee have suggested a "negative income tax"-a supplement instead of a tax for low-income workers that would help the financial redistribution without disrupting the other important outcomes generated by the practice of work.

Those supporting the negative income tax recognize that the importance of work is not just the income derived from it, but also the anchor that it affords us both socially and psychologically. Work provides a sense of purpose as well as a way to earn social status. The places we work give us both the opportunity for socializing as well as the structure that many of us need to feel productive and happy.

So while AI and other technologies may some day create a productivity abundance that allows us to eliminate the financial need to work, we will still need to find ways to obtain the social status-as well as a meaningful purpose-we get from work. There are many people who work in our society who aren't paid. One of the largest groups are stay-at-home men and women whose work it is to care for their homes and children. Their labor is not currently counted toward the GDP, and they often do not earn the social status and value they deserve. Could we somehow change the culture and create mechanisms and institutions that provided dignity and social status to people who don't earn money? In some ways academia, religious institutions and non-profit service organizations have some of this structure: social status and dignity that isn't driven primarily by money. Couldn't there be a way to extend this value structure more broadly?

And how about creative communities? Why couldn't we develop some organizing principle that would allow amateur writers, dancers or singers to define success by measures other than financial returns? Could this open up creative roles in society beyond the small sliver of professionals who can be supported by the distribution and consumption by the mass media? Could we make "starving artist" a quaint metaphor of the past? Can we disassociate the notion of work from productivity as it has been commonly understood and accepted? Can "inner work" be considered more fruitful when seen in light of thriving and eudaemonia?

Periclean Athens seems to be a good example of a moral society where people didn't need to work to be engaged and productive.* Could we image a new age where our self-esteem and shared societal value is not associated with financial success or work as we know it? Father Eric asks, "What does it mean to thrive?" What is our modern day eudaemonia? We don't know. But we do know that whatever it is, It will require a fundamental cultural change: change that is difficult, but not impossible. A good first step would be to begin work on our culture alongside our advances in technology and financial innovations so that the future looks more like Periclean Athens than a world of disengaged kids with nothing to do. If it was the moral values and virtues that allowed Periclean Athens to function, how might we develop them in time for a world without work as we currently know it?



* There were many slaves in Periclean Athens. For the future machine age, will be need to be concerned about the rights of machines? Will we be creating a new class of robot slaves?

by Joi at June 27, 2016 07:59 PM

Global Voices
Macedonian Youth Speak Out About Freedom of Expression Through Mini-Videos
Participants in the "Freedom of Expression Through Mini-Video" Competition. Photo: L’Institut français de Skopje.

Participants in the “Freedom of Expression Through Mini-Video” Competition. Photo: L’Institut français de Skopje, used with permission.

Young video artists from Macedonia tackled the issue of free speech through a series of short videos, which were produced as part of an open competition and screened during the French Film Festival in Skopje. The festival and the competition are part of the long-term cultural cooperation between France and Macedonia.

The two main entries were made in the silent movie tradition, which immediately expanded their reach and relevance with viewers, regardless of language. The video which was finally selected as the winner of the competition is “Shhh…” by Bruno Veljanovski:

The clever short “On and Off”, by Natalija Stanojevikj, copped second place:

Along with freedom of expression, Elion Jashari's English-language video, “Speak louder”, tackled the issue of pollution in Tetovo, a city in northwestern Macedonia:

All seven entries are publicly available via a YouTube playlist.

The competition was organized by the French Institute in Skopje and the Metamorphosis Foundation, which also provided training in video editing for some of the candidates. The winner will participate in the Off-Courts Festival in Trouville in Normandy come September. This annual event, started in 2000, provides a week-long exposition of short films, music, visual arts and new media produced in France and Quebec.

by Marko Angelov at June 27, 2016 07:22 PM

What Consequences Could the UK's Brexit Have for People in Africa?
Campaign poster for both camps in London. Photo released under Creative Commons by Wikipedia user Philip Stevens.

Campaign poster for both camps in London. Photo released under Creative Commons by Wikipedia user Philip Stevens.

A total of 52% of voters in Britain chose in a dramatic referendum to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23, 2016.

After the results were finalized, people across Africa, where various countries were colonised by Britain and are current members of the Commonwealth, an intergovernmental organisation of member states that were mostly colonies of the former British Empire, wondered if the decision to quit the EU would have any effect on them. 

Examining what Brexit, as its been dubbed, means for Africa, Grieve Chelwa noted on the Africa is a Country blog that economic recession in the UK as a result of the referendum is one of the ways in which African economies could be affected. However, he concluded that Africa is more worried about recession in China:

How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, it’s biggest trading partner by far.

He drew a similar conclusion about the importance of UK investments in Africa. Chelwa concluded his assessment by saying:

The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.

Ida Horner disagreed with those who argue that that African farmers stand to gain from the exit as Britain would be a voice in Europe speaking for African farmers:

As regards to African farmers, a question has been asked as to whether Britain would be more effective at fighting for the rights of African farmers if it was no longer part of the European union (EU). I don’t believe that this would be the case. This is because British farmers would have lost their subsidies from the EU under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The implication of this are not clear at this point in time but I would like to assume that Britain would prioritise British farmers over African farmers.

Richard Dowden, the director of the Britain-based Royal African Institute, thought that Britain's role as a voice for Africa in international organisations would diminish:

Many on the continent saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. But now, England and Wales – outside the EU and led by little Englanders – will see British influence in the world diminish further. Could Britain even find itself squeezed off the UN Security Council?

Brexit would also negatively affect African students, refugees and other types immigrants, he argued:

The exit will also feed racism in Britain. There is little doubt that many of the Leave voters, frightened by immigration, want to stop foreigners coming to Britain. Africans – more visible than Europeans – will no doubt be targeted.

But Ida Horner said how immigration control would change for Africans isn't clear:

This is because, Britain cannot control migration from the EU and therefore in order to reduce overall immigration into Britain, Commonwealth citizens’ access to Britain is restricted. The perception of those calling for an exit, is that if Britain were to leave the EU, this situation would be reversed.

The extent to which this assertion is true with respect to African countries is open to debate and would require an examination of existing data relating to for instance, how many Africans have successfully obtained a two year Commonwealth Youth or Ancestry visa in the past and currently compared to say Canadians, Australians or even white South Africans

Blogging at the web portal of media group Financial Nigeria International, Martins Hile looked at the impact of Brexit on Nigeria, Britain's second largest trading economy in Africa after South Africa:

As a member of the British Commonwealth, Nigeria has strong ties with Britain. After South Africa, Nigeria is Britain's second largest trading partner in Africa, with £6 billion (about N2.4 trillion or $8.52 billion) in bilateral trade volume last year. As of December 2014, the UK Department for International Development had a portfolio of 40 projects in Nigeria with a planned budget of £232 million for 2014/2015, which include grants to non-profits, technical assistance and partnerships with other development agencies. A weaker and smaller UK economy would scale back its investment in development projects in Nigeria, even if temporarily

He warned that Brexit could have a strong influence on secessionist sentiments in Nigeria:

Should Britain, which cobbled Nigeria together begin to unravel in its own union, agitators for independence for some of Nigerian ethnic groups would find the bad example worthy of emulation. In the final analysis, like Britain, the toll of brexit on Nigeria would be less severe on the economic front; its deeper implications would be political.

by Ndesanjo Macha at June 27, 2016 06:21 PM

An Argentinian Animator Reimagines the Game of Thrones Title Sequence for the Real World
GoTLatAm

This is how the Argentinian Damián Boso imagined the continent from the aesthetic of the popular series. Screenshot of the video shared by the animator on YouTube.

Game of Thrones, the successful HBO TV series based on the written saga by George R.R. Martin, is at the end of its sixth season now, but hasn't ceased to inspire its fans. With loyal viewers throughout North America and Latin America, the show tells the story of noble families in a medieval fantasy world who do everything possible to be in power and eliminate their enemies. Despite the imaginary setting, it isn't difficult to see parallels between our world and the Game of Thrones world, with its political intrigue and characters both lovable and twisted.

Argentinian 3D animator Damian Bosio was one of those fans who found his imagination sparked by the series, specifically by its animated title sequence, in which the lands of the fictional Game of Thrones world rise up from the ground with clockwork-like machinery. Damian then recreated the sequence for Argentina, then Latin America, and now will be expanding to other areas of our contemporary world.

In a brief conversation, he told Global Voices:

Vi la intro y lo primero que pensé es en hacer una versión ambientada en mi país (Argentina). Arranqué con la ciudad Buenos Aires (ciudad en donde vivo) con la idea de ir expandiéndolo.

I saw the intro and the first thing I thought of was making an adapted version for my country (Argentina). I started with the city of Buenos Aires (the city where I live) with the idea of expanding it.

El segundo fue el del conurbano bonaerense

The second was of Buenos Aires the capital and its metropolitan area.

…y luego el de toda la Argentina.

…and then all of Argentina.

 Iba a dar por terminada la serie pero decidí expandirlo más. La cuarta fue la versión de Sudamérica.

I was going finish my series, but I decided to expand it more. I made a fourth version with the whole of South America.

Luego hice la de América del norte.

Then I made one of North America.

Europa occidental (España, Alemania, Italia, Inglaterra, etc)

Western Europe (Spain, Germany, Italy, England, etc.)

…y Europa del este (Polonia, Russia, Ucrania, Etc)

…and Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Etc)

Seeing the title sequence reimagined for the 21st-century shows us that the more times change, the more they really stay the same. Perhaps the castles will disappear, but there will always be an ambitious Lannister Family and an old-school Stark Family ready to fight for honor. There will always be in some from queens fighting against usurpers, spies, traitors, loyal warriors, driven to do what they do by the intoxicating promise of power.

For now, Damian has only animated the Americas and Europe, but he recognizes that his work is just getting started:

Aún me queda bastante mundo por animar pero calculo que terminaré en Dubai. (Amo Dubai)

There is quite a bit of world left for me to animate, but I estimate that I will finish in Dubai. (I love Dubai)

We'll have to wait to see if Damian makes his way to Asia, Africa, and Oceania. After all, some of these real-world locations and their histories loosely correspond to the fictional peoples and places in the series, like the Caucasus and the Dorthraki or the north of Iraq and the Second Sons.

by Allie at June 27, 2016 05:54 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Tanzanian Prosecuted For “Insulting” the President on WhatsApp
Statement of offence shared on Twitter by @samirasawlani.

Statement of offence shared on Twitter by @samirasawlani.

Tanzanian citizen Leonard Mulokozi was charged on June 22 under Tanzania's Electronic and Postal Communications Act over a WhatsApp message that authorities say is “abusive” to Tanzanias president, John Magufuli. Mulokozi denied the charge at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court and was released on bail. The case will come up for mention on July 18.

It is alleged that on June 2 Mulokozi posted the following message, in Swahili, on WhatsApp:

Hivi huyu Pombe nd'o kwamba hana washauri? Hashauriki? Au ni zuzu? Bwege sana huyu jamaa; he doesn't consider the law in the place before opening his mouth au na yeye anaumwa ugonjwa wa Mnyika?

Does it mean this Pombe Magufuli [Tanzanias president] doesn't have advisers? Is he unadvisable? Or is he just a fool? He's real foolish, this fellow: he doesn't consider the applicable laws before opening his mouth; or does he also suffer from an illness like that of [opposition politician] Mnyika?

Mulokozi is the latest victim of Tanzania's relatively new Cybercrime Law, which the Parliament passed in April 2015 to address issues such as child pornography, cyberbullying, online impersonation, illegal interception of communications, and the publication of false information.

Despite widespread opposition from politicians, social media experts, and human rights activists, the bill was pushed through parliament with relatively little discussion or debate. Former president Jakaya Kikwete signed it into law in May 2015.

Opponents of the Cybercrime Act argue that the law gives too much power — without meaningful oversight — to police, bestowing upon them the ability to search the homes of suspected violators of the law, seize their electronic hardware, and demand their data from online service providers. They have also cautioned that police or the state could use their power to harass online activists or social media users.

Tanzanian citizen Isaac Abakuki Emily was convicted this month of insulting Tanzanian President John Magufuli on his Facebook page by the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court.

Emily may serve three years in prison, or alternatively pay a fine of five million shillings (US $2300), a steep sum in Tanzania, where the GDP per capita amounts to just under US $1000 per year. This was reduced from seven million upon appeal by his lawyer, according to local news site The Citizen. He must pay the fine by August 8, or serve the prison term.

In October 2015, two Tanzanians became the first victims of the new law. Benedict Angelo Ngonyani, a 24-year-old student at Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, was charged for publishing materials which are “false or not verified by relevant authorities.” It is alleged that he posted a Facebook post claiming that Tanzania's Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange, had been hospitalized after eating poisoned food.

In November 2015, four Tanzanians — Leila Sinare, Godfrey Soka, Deo Soka and Monica Gaspary Soka — were charged under Section 16 of Cybercrime Act 2015 for publishing false, election-related information on the social messaging platform WhatsApp. The four appeared before a Magistrate's court in Dar Es Salaam on November 6, 2015. Public prosecutors alleged that the accused published audio information on a WhatsApp group called the “Soka Group”, that was intended to mislead the public during the October 2015 Tanzanian general elections, which were plagued by accusations of vote-rigging.

by Ndesanjo Macha at June 27, 2016 04:43 PM

Global Voices
Tanzanian Prosecuted for ‘Insulting’ the President on WhatsApp
Statement of offence shared on Twitter by @samirasawlani.

Statement of offence shared on Twitter by @samirasawlani.

Tanzanian citizen Leonard Mulokozi was charged on June 22 under Tanzania's Electronic and Postal Communications Act over a WhatsApp message that authorities say is “abusive” to Tanzanias president, John Magufuli. Mulokozi denied the charge at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court and was released on bail. The case will come up for mention on July 18.

It is alleged that on June 2 Mulokozi posted the following message, in Swahili, on WhatsApp:

Hivi huyu Pombe nd'o kwamba hana washauri? Hashauriki? Au ni zuzu? Bwege sana huyu jamaa; he doesn't consider the law in the place before opening his mouth au na yeye anaumwa ugonjwa wa Mnyika?

Does it mean this Pombe Magufuli [Tanzanias president] doesn't have advisers? Is he unadvisable? Or is he just a fool? He's real foolish, this fellow: he doesn't consider the applicable laws before opening his mouth; or does he also suffer from an illness like that of [opposition politician] Mnyika?

Mulokozi is the latest victim of Tanzania's relatively new Cybercrime Law, which the Parliament passed in April 2015 to address issues such as child pornography, cyberbullying, online impersonation, illegal interception of communications, and the publication of false information.

Despite widespread opposition from politicians, social media experts, and human rights activists, the bill was pushed through parliament with relatively little discussion or debate. Former president Jakaya Kikwete signed it into law in May 2015.

Opponents of the Cybercrime Act argue that the law gives too much power — without meaningful oversight — to police, bestowing upon them the ability to search the homes of suspected violators of the law, seize their electronic hardware, and demand their data from online service providers. They have also cautioned that police or the state could use their power to harass online activists or social media users.

Tanzanian citizen Isaac Abakuki Emily was convicted this month of insulting Tanzanian President John Magufuli on his Facebook page by the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court.

Emily may serve three years in prison, or alternatively pay a fine of five million shillings (US $2300), a steep sum in Tanzania, where the GDP per capita amounts to just under US $1000 per year. This was reduced from seven million upon appeal by his lawyer, according to local news site The Citizen. He must pay the fine by August 8, or serve the prison term.

In October 2015, two Tanzanians became the first victims of the new law. Benedict Angelo Ngonyani, a 24-year-old student at Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, was charged for publishing materials which are “false or not verified by relevant authorities.” It is alleged that he posted a Facebook post claiming that Tanzania's Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange, had been hospitalized after eating poisoned food.

In November 2015, four Tanzanians — Leila Sinare, Godfrey Soka, Deo Soka and Monica Gaspary Soka — were charged under Section 16 of Cybercrime Act 2015 for publishing false, election-related information on the social messaging platform WhatsApp. The four appeared before a Magistrate's court in Dar Es Salaam on November 6, 2015. Public prosecutors alleged that the accused published audio information on a WhatsApp group called the “Soka Group”, that was intended to mislead the public during the October 2015 Tanzanian general elections, which were plagued by accusations of vote-rigging.

by Ndesanjo Macha at June 27, 2016 04:41 PM

DML Central
STEM Design Strategies to Engage Underrepresented Students

Although “making is a stance toward learning,” Minecraft is proving to be an object to learn with as well as think with in many after-school programs. “Talking about tinkering while doing it, in person and online, can enhance social contexts for peer learning and for learning thinking skills,” however, inequities continue to exist in underserved communities — what Henry Jenkins has called “the participation gap.”

Digital Youth Network, among others, has been busy trying, assessing, and spreading the word about practices that effectively bridge the gap. At DML 2016, on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 12:30 p.m., panelists Ugochi Acholonu, Lisa Brahms, Caitlin K. Martin, Nichole Pinkard, Ricarose Roque, Jim Sandherr, and Peter Wardrip — a mixture of researchers, practitioners, and designers — will discuss “Making a Difference: Design Strategies to Engage Underrepresented Communities in Maker Spaces.” In this video below, I spoke to one of the panelists, Digital Youth Network Postdoctoral Research Fellow Ugochi Acholonu.

Among the many strategies, projects, and studies to be discussed in this panel are three that Dr. Acholonu has been involved with in Chicago: the Mobile Van Initiative that broadened access to STEM equipment and expertise to traditionally underrepresented families (four sites each week for six weeks), a free Saturday Minecraft camp for 9-12 year olds at De Paul University, and Digital Youth Divas that engaged underserved girls with circuitry, programming, fabrication and design. The DML2016 panel will cover these projects and others — what worked and didn’t (and why), and how to replicate and spread similar programs.

Banner image credit: Ugochi Acholonu

The post STEM Design Strategies to Engage Underrepresented Students appeared first on DML Central.

by mcruz at June 27, 2016 04:10 PM

Info/Law
Free Speech Challenges to Credit Card Surcharge Laws

I recently helped write and organize an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to grant cert in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman. The case involves a circuit split on the constitutionality of “no surcharge” laws in New York, Florida, and a few other states. These states allow retailers to give “discounts” to cash and check payers but forbid retailers from adding “surcharges” when customers pay by credit card. Some retailers have challenged these laws under the First Amendment because the laws treat identical conduct differently based on how the sellers represent their prices.

Everybody thinks this is an easy case. The trouble is, everybody is divided about whether the First Amendment applies at all, some saying “obviously yes,” and others saying “obviously no.”

The Second and Fifth Circuits are in the “obviously no” camp. They dismissed the free speech arguments and found that these laws regulate only economic conduct.

A California district court and the Eleventh Circuit are in the “obviously yes” camp. So am I. This camp thinks the laws inarguably regulate speech. Despite appearances, the laws do not constrain pricing. Instead, they constrain how goods are labeled, and how prices are broken down and explained.

In the course of recruiting co-signers, it became clear that law professors are generally reluctant to recognize when commercial speech is being regulated, and also tend to assume that even when it’s clear communications are being suppressed, the suppression operates in consumers’ best interests. These instincts are wrong in the specific case of anti-surcharge laws, and they are likely to be misguided in the larger case of commercial speech as well. I’ll explain here why I think so.

Anti-surcharge laws regulate speech, not conduct.

These anti-surcharge cases are at bottom debating the scope of the First Amendment. The Second Circuit concluded that laws that prohibit a surcharge but allow a discount regulate economic conduct, not speech:

the central flaw in [the merchants’] argument [] is their bewildering persistence in equating the actual imposition of a credit-card surcharge (i.e., a seller’s choice to charge an additional amount above the sticker price to its credit-card customers) with the words that speakers of English have chosen to describe that pricing scheme. . . . But Plaintiffs are simply wrong. What [the law] regulates—all that it regulates—is the difference between a seller’s sticker price and the ultimate price that it charges to credit-card customers.

What’s bewildering to me is that the Second Circuit relies twice on a reference to a “sticker price” without acknowledging the expression involved. Stores are free to charge separately for an item and for the credit card transaction to purchase the item, but a sticker that says “$102, but $2 less for cash,” is legal while a sticker that says “$100, plus $2 for credit cards” can lead to jail time. The difference between criminally liable “surcharges” and perfectly legal “discounts” is, therefore, the way that retailers explain their pricing schemes.

Anti-surcharge laws do not target false and misleading speech

When I first heard about the free speech challenges to anti-surcharge laws, I immediately understood that the laws were regulating communication, but I suspected they might just target fraud. I though that the laws might be enforced out of concern for consumers who reasonably assume that they will be able to purchase an item by credit card for its sticker price and are surprised when their total is rung up. I assumed the laws would operate either as a form of compelled speech (to force retailers to give consumers information they need to know about the fully-loaded price they will pay at the cash register) or as a ban on misleading commercial speech (to make sure merchants don’t give consumers the impression that they will pay less than they actually will). Misleading commercial speech is not constitutionally protected. This potential for consumer deception is what the dissenting 11th Circuit judge had on his mind, and what Rebecca Tushnet is thinking about, I suspect, when she explains that “even if there’s a small-print disclosure—what a reasonable consumer would take away is the measure” of a misleading price.”

By the way, the theory that anti-surcharge laws target deception implicitly concedes that the laws regulate communication. Once we’re going down this road, we’re operating in a space where price communications are presumptively protected unless the regulation bans unprotected false or misleading speech. The First Amendment coverage question will therefore float or sink on the question of deception.

The fact is, anti-surcharge laws are not especially concerned about consumer deception. The anti-surcharge laws sweep broader than deception by banning clear statements, provided in advance of purchase, about additional credit card fees. Any explanation of prices that identifies credit cards as the source of additional costs rather than rolling them into the price of the item is illegal.

The surcharge bans are similar to a law the Kentucky legislature passed in 2005 restricting how telecommunications providers could label their customer’s bills. The state imposed a new tax and allowed telecom providers to pass the costs onto their customers, but the providers were forbidden from labeling the extra cost as a tax on customers’ bills. That ham-fisted attempt to avoid accountability for raising taxes was seen for what it was: an unconstitutional restriction on truthful commercial speech.

If New York is concerned about deception, it could cure the flaws in its anti-surcharge laws by replacing it with a compelled speech rule like this one used in Minnesota. It could mandate a disclaimer when sticker prices report cash prices to make sure customers understand that a credit card fee will apply. As co-signer Jonathan Adler has explained:

Where commercial speech is potentially misleading or even unclear, a requirement of curative counterspeech will typically be preferable to a limitation on speech. As the Court has noted, where possible, the remedy for potentially misleading speech should be more speech. Thus, requirements that producers or vendors qualify claims about products in advertisements and labels are more permissible than limitations or prohibitions on label or ad claims.

But a law requiring a clear disclaimer would be redundant. As long as consumers expect to be able to pay the same price for cash and credit cards, I suspect existing false advertising and unfair business practices laws will already push retailers to make clear disclaimers.

Anti-surcharge laws manipulate speech to nudge consumers into credit card transactions

The next way one might try to rationalize the anti-surcharge laws is to suppose that consumers are well-served by seeing one sticker price that reflects the most they will have to pay at the cash register. Perhaps New York and the other states with surcharge bans are regulating the way costs are framed for consumers.

This explanation, whatever its merit, would have to undergo constitutional scrutiny under the commercial speech doctrine. Under this theory, the state is regulating commercial speech, but it is doing so for an important consumer-protective purpose.

This theory cracks with just a little probing. The anti-surcharge laws wind up censoring not just truthful information, but valuable information: specifically, information that disaggregates the costs of the good or service from the costs of the credit card transaction. This information tends to benefit consumers by making them more likely to avoid transaction costs than they would be if the higher price were normalized and the consumer were offered a discount. The behavioral economics literature shows that the anti-surcharge laws have it backwards: they make consumers more likely to use a card, and thus to pay the higher price, in a dual pricing system. As an amicus brief filed by behavioral economists explains, lab experiments confirm that consumers are more likely to avoid a surcharge than to seek a discount. (This is entirely consistent with Kahneman and Tversky’s loss aversion work.)

The law also discourages retailers from engaging in dual pricing, meaning that cash buyers will continue to subsidize the credit card industry and its customers who pay their bills every month—a regressive transfer of wealth if I ever saw one. The California district court that struck down the anti-surcharge law cited Elizabeth Warren, who points out the detrimental effects of discouraging dual prices.

The negative effects from framing and cross-subsidies surely outweigh any benefits to consumers for seeing a single, higher sticker price (if there are any.) So if New York is attempting to use anti-surcharge laws to protect consumers, it seems to be doing it exactly wrong.

Courts can handle the judicial review of commercial speech regulations

One last form of resistance that I encountered while recruiting signatories was that the topic of prices, surcharges, and discounts is too complicated for the judiciary to understand and is best left to democratically accountable legislatures and agencies.

This is an argument that can be (and has been) trotted out every time the courts engage in constitutional scrutiny of any statutory or regulatory rule. The balancing of interests related to abortion, gay marriage, guns, and discrimination is also complicated, yet few legal scholars would accept judicial disengagement in these areas.

In any case, the premise is wrong. The consequences of anti-surcharge laws are not difficult to predict. State anti-surcharge laws are not the product of reasoned debate or the calculated tinkering by policy wonks. The laws were born from pure pork. They were pushed through by concerted lobbying efforts of credit card companies seeking refuge when a federal law of the same sort was allowed to expire. It requires no special training in economics or public policy to see that in this case, the credit card companies got a law that served their private interests.

If it seems strange that many law professors are prepared to defend the anti-surcharge law as presumptively protecting the public interest, (warning: shameless plug is imminent) I suggest looking at Derek’s and my new draft titled “Information Libertarianism.” We show that laws like the anti-surcharge bans that work against the public interest while appearing to work for it are much more common when the government regulates speech rather than directly regulating whatever it is they mean to achieve. In this case, a statute that bluntly bans retailers from engaging in dual pricing based on method of payment would clearly be an economic regulation rather than a speech regulation. But it would also be an unpopular regulation—one that reveals the state’s blatant pandering to the credit card industry. That type of law would not be confused for a consumer protection law.

By the way, I love credit cards.

This post has, up to this point, demonized the credit card industry. But my criticism of credit card companies applies only to their role in this particular episode of commercial speech bans. In fact, I suspect merchants are exaggerating the true costs of credit card swipe fees since handling cash, protecting it, and depositing it is costly to merchants. Keeping cash on hand is costly to consumers, too. Credit card users who are annoyed by swipe fees probably do not fully appreciate what they get in return. I for one will gladly pay a small swipe fee if the alternative means having to rely more heavily on ATMs and the inherent risks of carrying cash. For the most creditworthy consumers, swipe fees are more than balanced out by plum credit card rewards like miles and cash reimbursements. But this preference of mine does not change the essential point that disaggregating various sources of costs gives consumers more control to decide which services to take on and which to avoid.

I hope the Supreme Court takes up the case. States have a history of regulating speech under the guise of something that sounds like conduct, be it incitement or harassment. It would be a shame if “sticker prices” became an open avenue for banning truthful commercial speech.

by jyakowitz at June 27, 2016 03:39 PM

Global Voices
After Brexit, Timor-Leste Workers Are Worried About Their Future in the UK
Through a referendum, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. Photo from the Flickr page of portal gda, CC License

Through a referendum, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. Photo from the Flickr page of portal gda, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On June 23, 2016, a majority of United Kingdom voters decided in favor of a proposal to leave the European Union. Known as Brexit, the result of the referendum will have a massive impact not just in Europe but in many parts of the world.

For European citizens living in the UK, one of the principal concerns is their residency and right to work. Will the UK government force them to leave the country?

Among them is a significant number of people from Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is a former colony of Portugal, which means the Timorese are also recognized as nationals of Portugal, a member of the European Union.

Since 2002, when Timor-Leste achieved independence from Indonesia, many Timorese have come to the UK seeking jobs in the semi-skilled services sector and factories. Pay for similar work in Timor-Leste is low, but in the UK means at least minimum wages of 200 pounds per week (about 270 US dollars). Managed carefully, that's enough to live on as well as send some home to family left behind in Timor-Leste.

Following the Brexit vote, some Timorese residents of the UK are worried about their situation. Will they be asked to abandon their immigration status? This is the concern raised in the Forum Haksesuk Blog of Celso Oliveira, a Timorese living in UK:

Relasiona ho referendum 23/6, mosu preokupasaun hosi governu Timor Leste konaba oinsa futuro ema Timor iha UK post-referendum. Ema Timor tama iha Reino Unido desde Timor Leste hetan liberdadi iha Agostu 1999. To'o ohin loron, Timoroan kontinua sai hosi Timor hodi buka moris iha Reino Unido. Razaun tamba: primieru: ekonomikamente nivel moris iha Timor ema ida sei moris ho dollar ida loron ida.Segundo: Tamba razaun servisu laiha. Populasaun Timor aumenta, numeru dezempregados mos aumenta. Ida ne'e factor principal. Terseiru, ema buka mudansa iha sira ninia moris

Related to the referendum 23/06, there are some concerns the Timor-Leste government should address related to the future of its people living in the UK. Many Timorese have been coming to the UK since the country became a free nation in August 1999 [when a clear majority of Timorese voted for independence in a popular referendum]. Today, there are still Timorese people leaving their own country to live in the UK. The main reason has to do with the need to survive financially since many workers earn just $1 per day. Secondly, unemployment is worsening while population growth remains high. And thirdly, many people want to change their lives.

EU treaties recognizing the free movement of EU workers are still enforced today, but what will happen after Brexit? The fate of Portuguese migrants from Timor-Leste remains uncertain.

Addressing the concerns of Timorese residing in the UK, the Timor-Leste government urged its people not to panic since there will be negotiations between the EU and UK authorities over labour conditions for EU citizens already in the UK.

Govgerno Assegura Timor oan iha Inglaterra

Timor Leste's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Roberto Sarmento de Oliveira Soares sought to assuage the concerns of Timorese workers in the UK. Screenshot of Timor Post newspaper.

For its part, the Portuguese government is advising its citizens who are living in the UK to apply for a permanent resident card while securing dual nationality in order to secure their rights.

Meanwhile, Timor-Leste's former president and Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta advised the EU not to panic and instead turn the situation into an opportunity to “reimagine” the regional bloc:

From afar, my best advice to European leaders is…there is no reason to panic; the EU still has Germany, France, Italy, Italy, Poland and Spain whose combined GDP dwarf that of little UK.

European leaders must display serenity and begin to re-imagine a Union that is more peoples-based, reconnecting with the real people, less focused on the stifling Brussels-based bureaucrats, real culprits and cause of disdain and repudiation; instead of overspending on a wasteful Brussels bureaucracy the new EU should double investments on youth and employment for all, education and innovation.

by Dalia Kiakilir at June 27, 2016 02:19 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Civic Innovation Workshop in Mérida, Mexico
What does civic innovation look like in México?  There are efforts across the nation to build skills, interest, and capacity for civic technology.  Last week I contributed to these by facilitating a workshop for youth in Mérida, Mexico on the topic of Civic Innovation.  It was organized and hosted at the amazing Workshop school, just outside of town, with the help of my colleague and friend Alberto Muñoz.  Their student-led, collaborative approach to learning was inspired by the Reggio-Emilia style; reminding me of my roots in the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  It provided the perfect setting for this hackathon-style workshop to help youth learn about how to apply their technological and creative skills towards the public good.  The participants ranged from 6th grade, to graduate school; a great mix of skills and interests.  This event was offered with support from the MIT Center for Civic Media, the Workshop school, Andromie Robotics, and Canieti Sureste.
 
 
Why are these types of workshops so important to run?  For one, it helps us here at Civic Media ground our work with real people in settings outside of the ivory tower that is MIT.  This is one of the many ways we try to use collaborative design for all our projects.  Of course, we’re also an educational institution, so it is important for us to find new ways to get another generation interested in using technology for the social good.  We also argue about the narratives of using technology to solve other people’s problems, so these hands-on workshops with local participants can build capacity for using technology appropriately to address their own problems.  In many places this civic innovation usage of technology is nascent, so creating new experiences and and helping youth see it as a valuable is especially important.
 
In terms of learning goals, I was focused more on process than output.  The week-long event provided rich opportunities to help students learn about pitching their ideas, getting feedback, iterating, and prototyping.  They used a variety of technologies to accomplish this - including Arduino, Proto.ioAppInventor, ScratchIonic Creator, and Andromie Maker.  Participants practiced crafting their story and demonstrating their projects numerous times.  I introduced a process for telling their story that is common here at the Media Lab.  These brainstorming, collaboration, technical and communication skills are ones that I hope participants will find useful across any projects they do.
 
 
At this workshop the nine groups created a rich diversity of project prototypes.  The participants were a mix of students who attend the private Workshop school, local polytechnic universities, and public schools.  The week culminated in a public demo event, showcasing their ideas in an open house inspired by those we host twice a year at the MIT Media Lab.  Students told the story of the problem they were tying to solve, the prototype they made to demonstrate their solution, and the potential impact of their fully realized ideas.  Below is a quick run-down of each, but as with most week-long workshops, the main goals and impact are more about the capacity built among the participants than the technology specific prototypes they created.
 
I led the participants through an agenda that started with brainstorming what "Civic Innovation” means.  Based on our collective definition, and a number of examples I shared, we starting proposing problems they could work on during the week. With these proposals they started assembling into groups, sketching up their ideas to get feedback from other participants and from the mentors.  Then the prototyping began!  The main technologies were. The resources at the Workshop included 3d printers, paint, electronics, and various other hardware and tools they could use.
 
The Projects
 
Make it Automatic
Automating your life from door to door.
The handicapped around México struggle with the built environment.  This group tried to solve that problem by prototyping a mechanical door that could be cheaply built to open and close automatically.  The mechanics included 3d printer parts controlled by an Andromie Arduino board. They hope to improve life for the physically handicapped.
 
 
LED Crossing
For safer streets
Many people in México cross the street wherever they want, leading to many injuries and deaths.  This group decided to prototype a more effective, and more fun, street crossing.  Their solution controls LEDs via an Andromie Arduino board, which that blink in patterns to alert the driver and pedestrian to who’s turn it is.  Their goal is to reduce these incidents.
 
 
Drone Life
Saving lives without risking others.
Drowning is a major problem around the world. This group decided to address the problem of getting to a drowning victim quickly enough to provide assistance.  They designed and 3d printed a rig for under a quad-copter that could carry and release a life vest to someone drowning at sea.  The latching mechanism used an Andromie Arduino board. They hope to reduce drowning deaths by using this new technology.
 
 
Helping Stories
Inspiring people to help
There is a lack of kindness and charity in the stories we share.  This group decided to make a tree that showcased good deeds (inspired by Crónicas de Heroes).  As you write a story and slide it into a box, a new light illuminates on the tree.  Their prototype was based on an Andromie Arduino board, programmed with visual block software.  They hope to create a giant version for a public space, and encourage people to do more kind acts and help each other.
 
 
PestsOff
Making solutions for your garden to blossom.
It is hard for busy people to maintain their plants and gardens.  This group decided to prototype a remote control robot that could water you plants while you aren’t at home.  They used an Andromie Arduino board and a variety of sensors and motors. Their goal was to encourage more people to grow plants within their home.
 
 
Trash Metal
Recycling for a better world
Trash disposal is a big problem, and even when people throw things away they might not be recycling as much as they should.  This group decided to make a trash can into a carnival game, where you could win prizes by throwing recycling bottles.  They used an Andromie Arduino board, sensors, and Scratch to create an interactive prototype. They hope to encourage a more playful form of urban planning to increase recycling rates.
 
 
Whatsquitos
Sharing experiences to care for the health of Mérida’s residents
Mosquito-borne illnesses, and spraying to prevent them are common around Mérida. This group wanted to build a better system for identifying where to spray, and helping those who get a disease.  Their Proto.io prototype app lets citizens report when they are sick, offers to connect them to someone that can help, and shows a map of recent reports of illness. They hope to optimize disease mitigation strategies, and help those who do catch an illness.
 
 
Runastik
Running day is every day
Obesity is a growing problem in México.  This group decided to encourage people to exercise by helping them connect with a running buddy.  They prototyped an app with Ionic Creator that would let you and a buddy take a run to a virtual destination together.  Their goal was to encourage exercise and encouragement between the buddies.
 
 
Don’t Bug Me
Identifying animals for your tranquility and safety.
People that live in houses, and their household help, often run into bugs and animals here while cleaning.  This group decided to create a way to automatically identify insects and animals so you could find out which were dangerous and which were not.  Their AppInventor-based prototype is a mockup of their solution.  They hope to change how we relate to household insects.
 

by rahulb at June 27, 2016 02:09 PM

June 26, 2016

Global Voices
The Caribbean Considers the Ripple Effects of Brexit
"Brexit -- How the vote went in the end". Photo by flickr user Mick Baker rooster, used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

“Brexit—How the vote went in the end”. Photo by Flickr user Mick Baker, CC 2.0.

The startling results of Brexit, the UK's referendum about whether or not to remain part of the European Union, has left not only Britons and their fellow Europeans — but also the rest of the world — in complete shock. The June 23 vote resulted in 51.9 percent of the UK voting to leave, and 48.1 percent voting to remain.

The value of the British pound nosedived after the results were revealed and there are already rumblings in Scotland — which held its own referendum two years ago to determine whether it should be independent from the rest of the United Kingdom — that it will likely stage another referendum, given that many Scots believe they've been removed from the EU against their will.

Indeed, millions in Britain already want a second EU-related referendum, and there is a petition now circulating that essentially calls for a do-over, demanding that the government implement a rule requiring a new vote “if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 percent based on a turnout less than 75 percent”. The British Parliament tables issues for debate once petitions attain more than 100,000 signatures. At the time of this writing, the petition calling for a second referendum has more than 3.2 million signatures.

Caribbean netizens are also concerned about the domino effect of Britain's decision on trade, as well as on revenue streams like remittances. Many of the concessions that the region enjoys with the EU trading bloc are connected to many of its territories’ membership in The British Commonwealth.

Isolation vs. Integration

Barbados-based blogger BC Pires noted:

The whole world fervently followed yesterday’s referendum that decided whether Britain left or remained in the European Union, because Brexit has truly global ramifications […]

To me, the whole debate really comes down to one thing: do you want to connect with others or go it alone? […] So yesterday’s vote, for me, was a vote on our own development, as a species, and a measurement of our own hope in ourselves. It delights me that Germany, the nation that twice led the world into war in the last century, is leading the global movement towards widespread, cooperative international peace. The same German state that murdered six million Jews barely 71 years ago […] voluntarily made space, last year, for a million refugees.

If that isn’t the best part of us, we’ve got nothing good going for us at all.

In fact, he suggested that if his own region continued to act in a similar manner to the UK, he'd be a candidate for leaving the Caribbean himself:

I know this for sure: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex – what-firetrucking-ever – people are people, human beings with human rights, and they are facing the same hatred that black people have endured from the time they arrived in the New World.
And if my own people – English-speaking West Indians, the bulk of whom have been treated as inhuman for the bulk of our history – cannot recognise the humanity of others, I vote to reject my people as easily as Britain rejected Europe yesterday.

Fellow journalist Ira Mathur wrote on Facebook:

Sad sad day. End of an era of breaking down walls, of globalisation, of multiculturalism, of state backed tolerance. Seriously those of you who voted out of fear and ethnocentrism your world became much smaller and isolated and you ruined it for everyone. For now. In solidarity with my friends who voted in: You are the best of the British and will be instrumental in turning things around. Cameron will go down in history as an idiot.

From St. Kitts, Facebook user Dele Adams commented:

WOW.

‪#‎Brexit‬. When the British Pound is at 3.64 to the lowly Eastern Caribbean Dollar, you KNOW you've screwed up.

Do the English fear brown people that much that they're willing to tank their own economy?
That says a lot.

Diaspora Facebook user Lesley-Ann Noel was also concerned about the message the vote sent:

Hmm, I don't know why I expected better from the UK. Disappointing. Isolation can't be the solution in 2016!

A Xenophobic Decision?

Many Caribbean netizens — some of whom have strong ties to England — couldn't help but feel sidelined by the final results. On Twitter, Trinidadian artist and activist Attillah Springer wrote:

She then went a step further, saying:

To Facebook user Rhoda Bharath, knowing that border control was a key issue in the Brexit debate, the paradox was clear:

Britain afraid of immigrants….the ironies, boy.

Many Internet users throughout the region shared the meme pictured below, also mocking the irony of Britain's fear of immigrants:

COLONISER

Memories of a Failed West-Indian Federation

For many regional netizens, the Britain-EU divorce brought up painful memories of its own unconsummated union. Back in 1958, an attempt at a Caribbean political federation began, lasting just more than four years. The hope was that islands that were still British colonies would band together for a common goal: to gain independence from the mother country as a single state. But internal political wrangling led to its untimely demise. The revered Trinidadian calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow famously sang about it:

At the time, there was a lot of finger-pointing at both Trinidad and Tobago, the intended headquarters of the federation. Jamaica caught some flak, too. Independent journalist and Facebook user Wesley Gibbings quipped:

Brits vote to leave the EU because: 1. We can do fine all on our own, thank you; 2. All ah dem people from all dem poor country coming in we country free free; 3. What we getting for de money we putting in dis thing? 4. All dem people goods coming in jess so, jess so. Dat cyar be right!

Why does all of this sound so eerily familiar? Eh, T&T? Eh, Jamaica?

“Brits vote to leave the EU because: 1. We can do fine all on our own, thank you; 2. All of those people from all those poor countries are coming into our country freely; 3. What are we getting for the money that we putting into this thing? (meaning the EU) 4. All those people’s goods are coming in [to our country] just like that. That can’t be right!
Why does all of this sound so eerily familiar? Eh, T&T? Eh, Jamaica?”

Writing on Facebook, Rhoda Bharath added:

This must be how not having the Federation felt in 1958?
Im depressed and up in my feels on this.
‪#‎Brexit
‪#‎EU‬

With all this happening, the Trinidad-based satirical website The Late O'Clock News couldn't resist taking a fresh stab at Jamaica:

The Jamaican Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte says that Jamaica will soon hold a referendum or whether or not it remains a member state in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

She says that Friday’s ‘Brexit’ victory inspired her to push for this movement.

‘Brexit made me think back to the good old days when Jamaica destroyed Dr Eric Williams’ dream of unified Caribbean integration. And I thought wow. What are we as modern day Jamaicans doing to live up to the standards of our forefathers. I felt so inspired. […] I reminded the Prime Minister that Jamaica has to proudly uphold its proud reputation of being proud. Boycotting T&T products is good; but it’s not enough. So that’s how I decided that the natural next step is to launch Jamaicaway…

First Brexit, Next Trump?

Members of the Caribbean diaspora living in the United States were also troubled by the implications of Brexit. The blogger and science fiction author Tobias Buckell explained that one of the reasons he so valued his UK passport was because of the “knowledge that it gave […] the ability to plug into a larger community of 300 million”:

This has been one of the biggest cutting off a nose to spite a face scenarios I think I’ve seen. It’s stunning. I’m still sorting through my reactions.

Basically, when Donald Trump, Iran, Moscow, and right-wing racist groups are all totally psyched, you fucked up.

Buckell wasn't the only diaspora blogger who made connections to Trump. Trini Like Salt, who was not pleased about Britons’ decision, wrote on Tumblr:

‘There is no way Brexit will pass’ = ‘There is no way Trump can win’
Just putting that out there.
#turns out people are stupid everywhere

Facebook user Cherise d'Abadie said:

Watching with apprehension as the West continues its stampede to the far right.

The popular Trinidad-based website Wired 868 also weighed in:

You know that your foreign policy ideas probably were not as well thought out as you hoped when you find US presidential candidate Donald Trump agreeing with you.

‘I think it is a great thing,’ said Trump. ‘Basically, they took their country back.’

That’s one way to look at Britain’s decision, via a referendum, to quit the European Union. Another is that a nation whose empire once stretched across the globe is now so insular and deluded, it prefers to pull down the blinds, take the phone off the hook and pass the time reminiscing about Queen Victoria. […]

Faced with the challenge of learning to get along with its neighbours for the common good in a world that is shrinking by the minute, Britain chose a short-term, knee-jerk reaction. […] It was a very good day for bigotry.

This, Too, Shall Pass

Some Internet users took a more relaxed view of the Brexit developments. In a Facebook post, Laura Beadon, who lives on the outskirts of London, wrote:

We're still going to sell & buy, we're still going to travel, we're still going to live, just on our own terms.

She also noted:

What's done is done and we cannot change it […] This should be the perfect opportunity for the people to come together and put some drive and motivation into the life of this country.

Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar added:

Stop whining, people—It's called democracy.

But Facebook user Natasha Ramnauth disagreed, saying:

This is not about democracy. It is about a successful PR campaign. For the most part, these issues are complex and multi-layered and usually beyond the interest and/or comprehension of the general public. Very few people are willing to wade through all the information.

Like many West Indians who were fans of the dry humour of British television comedies, Ramnauth immediately saw parallels:

This really feels like an episode of Yes Minister…all that's missing is PS Appleby

From Jamaica, UK-born Emma Caroline Lewis soon shared a link from the same show on Facebook — a hilarious, satirical take on why Britain really joined the European Union in the first place:

by Janine Mendes-Franco at June 26, 2016 03:43 PM

A Children's Book Introduces German Kids to the True Story of Syrian Refugees
Rahaf and her family fleeing Homs, Syria to Germany. Credit: Jan Birck

Rahaf and her family fleeing Homs, Syria to Germany. Credit: Jan Birck

This article by Lucy Martirosyan originally appeared on PRI.org on June 20, 2016, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

There are now more than 65 million people displaced by conflict in the world, the highest level ever recorded. Half of these refugees are children.

Germany has received more than 1 million refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq. Despite supporters initially celebrating Chancellor Angela Merkel's actions, many Germans have begun voicing concerns about when this acceptance of migrants will come to an end.

But while the adults in Germany have expressed mixed reactions to the refugees, German author Kirsten Boie wants children at least to realize that a refugee child is just like any other kid in the world.

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

In her latest children’s book, “Everything Will Be Alright,” she writes the true story of Rahaf and her family, who flee Homs, Syria due to bombings by war planes. The family crosses the Mediterranean Sea on a small boat, ultimately choosing a small town near Hamburg, Germany to start their new lives.

The book is published in German and Arabic and is meant to be read at school to both German-born children and their new immigrant neighbors. (An English translation is available online here.)

“You have hundreds of thousands of people who not only welcome refugees coming to us, but who support them very heavily, who give a lot of their time helping them to learn the language, to go to a doctor, to go to authorities and so on. And on the other hand, you have some people who are completely against refugees,” Boie says. “Children are somewhere in the middle and the information that they get — well, some parents speak about refugees badly, some say something different. So I thought just telling a story of a genuine family would give them a chance to learn what it was like.”

Throughout the past year, Boie has been in contact with refugee families. She says that she could have chosen a more “dramatic” story to tell — one that would have included more loss, violence and pain — but she decided to tell a more “ordinary” one. She hopes that will allow German children to relate to refugee children more easily.

The book includes some horrifying scenes endured by the main characters who are now settled in Germany. Credit: Jan Birck

The book includes some horrifying scenes endured by the main characters who are now settled in Germany. Credit: Jan Birck

As she worked on the book, Boie would meet with Rahaf and her brother Hassan (not their real names) as well as their mother. Instead of talking about the violence and war right away, the two children reminisced about their home and the friends and cousins they left behind. Their mother eventually prompted them in Arabic to speak of the war atrocities they had witnessed, Boie says.

Boie keeps in touch with Rahaf and Hassan — they even go to the movies together — but she doesn't plan on a sequel.

“I'm pretty certain I won't do that. I did everything so that nobody could identify these children. I even changed their names — that is, they changed them themselves. They told me what they wanted to be called in the story,” Boie says.

At readings Boie has done, some young German readers worry about the well-being of Rahaf and Hassan. They have even started to empathize with them.

“Children, I think they're very, very open-minded. When they hear what these kids have gone through, they want to know, ‘Can we help them? How can we help them? What can we do to make life easier for them?'” Boie says.

“In this story of these two Syrian kids, the smugglers on the Mediterranean, they steal their luggage. In the luggage there's the girl's doll. And she's very unhappy about losing her doll that way. The children here always start by asking, ‘Has she got her doll back?’ I think the reason for that is that this is something that they can imagine [happening to] themselves, whereas all the bombs and fighting and nights on the Mediterranean … they can't imagine that happening to themselves.”

Boie, who has written over 60 books for both children and teenagers, believes stories help young people understand what's going on in the world.

“Stories, I think, always make it much easier for children to understand something than theoretical knowledge. I think that's the chance we have,” Boie says.

by Public Radio International at June 26, 2016 10:00 AM

Interactive Security Tracker Maps Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
A screenshot of the Sub-Saharan Security Tracker (SST) .

A screenshot of the Sub-Saharan Security Tracker (SST) .

The Council on Foreign Relations is a nonprofit think tank and publisher that deals with U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Under the leadership of John Campbell, its Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies (Campbell has extensive experience in U.S. policy towards Africa and has helped highlight the continent's fight against HIV/AIDS), the Council has launched a useful tool — the Sub-Saharan Security Tracker (SST) — to monitor trends in political violence in 48 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Designed by Allen Grane and Asch Harwood, the tracker draws on data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), which documents violence in Africa by surveying open sources, reports from non-governmental organizations, and publicly available data. The statistics, which are updated monthly, date back as far as June 1, 2011. Unlike ACLED's data, though, this tool is interactive and filters information relating to Sub Saharan Africa. This is particularly useful, considering that ACLED’s data covers more than 60 countries in Africa and Asia.

Currently, mass violence is a reality in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa — South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Mali, to name a few. Perpetrators are both state actors and non-state actors, including extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and Anti-Balaka.

According to a press statement, the tracker uses over three million data points to map deaths caused by political violence, categorizing them by geographic distribution, trends over time, and actors involved.

The statement further explained:

The data reveals meaningful trends over the past five years. For instance, a plurality of deaths associated with political violence are caused by state forces, rather than rebel forces or other militias. The group responsible for the most deaths, however, is Boko Haram, and it is followed by the military forces of Sudan and Nigeria. Consequently, Nigeria has been site of the most political violence.

The data is presented in five easily understandable charts:

  • a map of sub-Saharan Africa indicating quantity of deaths in each country
  • a breakdown of deaths by the category of perpetrator
  • a line graph tracking incidents between armed actors and incidents against civilians
  • a line graph tracking overall politically related deaths since 2011
  • a tally of death caused by the most active state and nonstate groups in the region

The graph below shows deaths caused by political violence over time:

A screenshot of a graph from the tracker.

A screenshot of a graph from the tracker.

The tracker will allow researchers, journalists and policymakers to identify both current and future trends in violence in the region. However, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that:

The ACLED data [which is the source of their information] has limitations. The quality of reporting across sub-Saharan Africa varies, as do incident accounts. Political manipulation may affect media accounts. Such limitations make the SST figures indicative rather than definitive.

by Ndesanjo Macha at June 26, 2016 04:22 AM

As Delhi's Ruling Party Demands Full Statehood, Could Dexit Follow Brexit?
States and Union Territories of India. Image by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) via Wikimedia Commons

States and Union Territories of India. Image by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) via Wikimedia Commons

The United Kingdom's bowing out of the European Union has caused ripples around the world as other countries weigh in on the consequences of Britain’s EU exit and what the future holds for British politics and society.

Continual coverage and follow-ups of the event by the media have firmly established Brexit frenzy all around the globe. Now, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, seems to be similarly ensnared by the political audacity shown by UK — so much so that he has re-asserted an old claim that a referendum for Delhi’s independence is impending. He made the statement on Twitter shortly after the final tally of the UK's referendum votes:

A member of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the current ruling party of Delhi, Ashish Khetan, also tweeted:

India currently has 29 states and seven union territories. Delhi, the national capital territory, is a union territory, in which New Delhi is a municipality and a district in Delhi and serves as both the capital and the seat of Government of India.

In May, a draft bill concerning Delhi’s statehood was brought out by Chief Minister Kejriwal, which was also posted on the Delhi government website. The bill seeks to bring under the ambit of Delhi government, the Delhi police, as well as its Development Authority and Municipal Corporation. Should Delhi attain statehood, the Parliament of India will also assume “exclusive legislative and executive powers on matters relating to public order, police, local Government and land”. The AAP has invited public comment on the bill until June 30, after which date it is supposed to be re-drafted, taking due consideration of the insights received from the public.

Kejirwal became the Chief Minister of New Delhi in 2015 after the AAP defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the current ruling party in India — in the Delhi Legislative Assembly Elections. AAP's manifesto included the promise of statehood for Delhi if the party managed to win the legislative assembly elections that year. However, Kejriwal has since been cautious in raising the demand for Delhi's statehood, repeatedly reminding the public that his party has not been first — or indeed, the only one — to raise the issue. The Delhi government's website introducing the bill reads, “All the political parties i.e. Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and others, who have contested assembly elections in Delhi during the last 22 years, have aspired and promised through their successive election manifestos that they are fully committed towards full statehood for Delhi.”

Kejriwal has stressed the need for political parties to come together for the cause of Delhi's separate statehood, but not everyone is happy with the suggestion. One of India's most revered journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, dismissed a possible referendum for Delhi's statehood as a “bad idea”:

Like Sardesai, many have expressed their displeasure with the AAP's insistence on Delhi assuming separate statehood:

BJP leader Satish Upadhyay had reportedly called the bill unconstitutional when it was introduced, flagging it as another political gimmick by the AAP government and emphasising that his own party had promised Delhi statehood under different circumstances and through different methods.

On Twitter, netizens have also labelled the bill as unconstitutional:

Since 2015, the AAP has consistently claimed that a referendum to decide on Delhi's separate statehood would not be unconstitutional — but experts have suggested that Indian constitutional provisions do not allow for a referendum to decide the issue. It remains to be seen how the AAP will move forward with its agenda, amidst and despite palpable public discomfort and legal constraints.

by Sohini Chatterjee at June 26, 2016 03:36 AM

Manila's Pride March Advocates to “End the Hate and Let Love In”
The term 'LGBTindig' refers to LGBT standing up for their rights. It also demands an end to discrimination. Photo from the Facebook page of University of the Philippine Manila Student Council; used with permission.

The term ‘LGBTindig’ refers to LGBT standing up for their rights. It also demands an end to discrimination. Photo from the Facebook page of University of the Philippine Manila Student Council; used with permission.

Members, families and supporters of the LGBT community in the Philippines led the celebration of the country’s 22nd Pride March to celebrate love, tolerance, and human rights. The first Pride March in Asia was held in the Philippines in 1994.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

The theme of this year’s Pride March enjoined everyone to spread love in society:

This year, we need everyone to come together and advance the campaign for love. We call on all Filipinos to let love into their homes, their communities, and the whole country.

We want a future where all LGBTQIA+ people are able to freely live their authentic selves and love without fear of persecution. To achieve this, everyone inside and outside the LGBTQIA+ community needs to end the hate and let love in.

The LGBTQIA+ acronym includes people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, asexual and more.

The event was held a few days before the inauguration of the country’s new president — a timely move, as some groups challenged the incoming government to support the passage of an anti-discrimination law. Despite the claim of the country’s leaders that the Catholic-dominated Philippines is an open and democratic society, there is continuing prejudice against the LGBT sector.

Hate crimes persist, although most incidents go unreported. One recent famous case involved a US marine who is accused of killing a transgender. Ivanka Custodio, who is the leader of an LGBT group, wrote about the crimes committed against the LGBT community, citing high-profile cases like Olongapo (where the transgender was killed) and Orlando (where a mass shooting killed 50 LGBT people):

We have barely recovered from the shock and grief caused by the Orlando shooting which cut short lives of LGBT people of color. 50 died that day. But they only foreshadow the millions of other LGBT lives that have been extinguished due to hate and violence. Lives lived in constant struggle for survival and finally punctuated by gunshots, or drowned in a toilet bowl, or slashed and stuffed in a luggage. In the process of building a community, we saw that there are people like us whose lives are deemed more dispensable than others and are treated as such.

Photos of the 2016 Manila Pride March showed the humanity of the LGBT community:

Students of the University of the Philippines join the Pride March. Source: Facebook

Students of the University of the Philippines join the Pride March. Source: Facebook

The main program was held in front of the statue of Lapu-Lapu, a folk hero who fought Spanish colonialists:

Curiously, a religious group joined the event and apologized for the bigotry of some religious institutions:

The staff of the Australian embassy also took part in the parade:

Finally, in a stirring act of inclusion, gay senior citizens — many of whom must have lived most of their lives hiding their sexual orientation — were honoured and recognized as part of the community:

by Mong Palatino at June 26, 2016 02:01 AM

June 25, 2016

Global Voices
Balkan Right-Wing Populists Gloat Over #Brexit
To illustrate schadenfreude -- pleasure derived from misfortune of others -- Wikipedia used the painting "Taming the Donkey," by Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (1868), in which a group of monks laughs while the lone monk struggles with the donkey. (Public Domain).

To illustrate schadenfreude — pleasure derived from misfortune of others — Wikipedia used the painting “Taming the Donkey,” by Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (1868), in which a group of monks laughs while the lone monk struggles with the donkey. (Public Domain).

While the official reactions by most Balkan governments included expressions of concern for the European Union (EU) after the Brexit, representatives of right-wing parties expressed joy via social networks.

As Balkan Insight reported, initial official reactions from the Balkan region to the negative vote on the EU in Britain are gloomy: “Balkan officials voiced concerns on Friday about the uncertain future of the EU following Britian’s vote to leave the EU, while affirming their commitment to European integration.”

However, over the social networks, there was an outpouring of joy and schadenfreude — open gloating over the “demise” of the EU — by representatives of the right-wing political parties, both in power and opposition, including members of the Europe-wide European People's Party. While officially professing European values when speaking to their constituents, these parties often spread Euro-skepticism and Europhobia.

One of the often-repeated mantras of Balkan nationalists is “Why bother joining the EU and NATO when they will break up anyway soon, just like Yugoslavia did?” The Macedonian public recently learned that even their former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, received such “words of wisdom” by a soothsayer that was giving him advice:

She also advises against Macedonian joining the European Union because she is worried that the ‘EU will fall apart’ and concludes that NATO will remain a factor but will be ‘artificially maintained’.

The narrative of the further disintegration of the EU was echoed by Turkish president Erdoğan, who warned that more countries will leave the EU. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek tweeted:

Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov also stated, “We are worried that the EU may go down the same road as Yugoslavia.”

Happy Time for Populists

One of the reasons for the joy demonstrated by Balkan nationalists is the perception that the internal division would draw the attention of the EU away from its periphery, weakening its influence to demand the kind of reforms that could affect both national sovereignty and the grip on power held by corrupt elites.

One of the first public reactions to the Brexit happened the morning after the UK referendum results were announced. Vojislav Šešelj, a Serbian far-right politician who currently sits in opposition, tweeted, using metaphors from vampire folklore:

What a lovely Summer morning, and what a lovely news that overjoyed the whole Serbhood. The English nailed a wooden stake into the heart of the corpse of the European Union.

In Macedonia, there was a public uproar over a tweet by Gordana Jankuloska, the former Macedonian Minister of Interior and a high-ranking official of the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE. She mocked the British decision to leave the EU by tweeting “Now what?” to the British Ambassador, Charles Garret:

Jankuloska has benefited from a UK government scholarship in the past. Her choice of words, “Now what?” (“Sega šu prajme?”) is similar to the form of “What's up?” (“Šu praiš?”) she used when speaking to her confidant, the then Minister of Finance Zoran Stavrevski, in leaked wiretaps related to ongoing investigations of high level political corruption by the Special Prosecutor Office. Jankulovska is one of the chief suspects in the case.

In 2015, the opposition used the term “Šu praiš” to mock Jankuloska — including through the use of graffiti, which the ruling party then covered over. Her attempt to reclaim the phrase can be interpreted as announcement of her impunity from the allegations of organized criminal activity contained in the wiretaps. Her tweet was re-tweeted by other right-wingers — including some current ministers — but it also received hundreds of replies, with many stating: “Now, you will go to jail.”

"Šu praiš" ("What's up") graffiti in Skopje. Photo by Meta.mk News Agency, used with permission.

“Šu praiš” (“What's up”) graffiti in Skopje. Photo by Meta.mk News Agency, used with permission.

More Referendums?

Some populist politicians used the outcome of the British referendum as an excuse to advocate for holding other referendums in areas under their control.

For instance, the President of Republika Srpska (RS) Mirolad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb entity, stated his commitment to the process of joining the EU, but also noted that the Brexit served to “affirm the additional strength of referendums as final decision on national issues, and that would serve the RS in some future.” Hinting at the desire for secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina, he added that the right to hold referendum was “sharply denied” to RS so far.

In Serbia, the anti-EU Democratic Party of Serbia demanded that the president fulfill his promise and organize a referendum on the entry of Serbia into the EU and NATO. Such a referendum would supposedly undermine the pro-EU efforts of Prime Minister Vučić.

In Slovakia, the far right party Kotleba – People's Party Our Slovakia launched a petition for a referendum on EU membership.

What Next?

Mirroring some of the sentiments from the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, Ingo Mannteufel, the manager of Deutsche Welle Europe Department and the editor of DW in Russian, commented that while official Russian reactions would be diplomatic, the Kremlin would privately celebrate, as the EU would now be busy with its own woes. Brexit fulfiled the Russian goal to draw the Balkans further from the EU:

Ни о каком дальнейшем расширении Евросоюза сейчас не может быть и речи. Плохая новость для всех украинцев, молдаван и грузин: расширение ЕС за счет приема бывших советских республик или балканских государств отодвигается на далекое-далекое будущее. И даже скорую отмену визового режима с Украиной или Грузией сейчас трудно себе представить.

Currently we cannot speak of further EU enlargement. This is bad news for all Ukrainians, Moldovans and Georgians: expanding the EU by joining of former Soviet republics or Balkans states will be postponed to a far-away future. Now it is also hard to imagine that the EU would abolish the visa regime with Ukraine and Georgia.

However, one of the most re-tweeted tweets on the Brexit was optimistic and unorthodox, given the source. It came from the German Foreign Office, at the end of the long day after the referendum results were announced.

by Filip Stojanovski at June 25, 2016 06:15 PM

Nature, Gender Identity, and Other Things You Learn Filming a Documentary in Mexico on the Banks of the Usumacinta River
The documentary about the community of El Remolino brings together individual and collective stories on and off screen. This image shows Dana, daughter of Esther, an inhabitant of the town, whilst she looks at her reflection in a lake. Image from the documentary taken from the Facebook page of the producer and published with permission.

A scene from the documentary film “Son Duros Los Días Sin Nada” (The Days Without Anything Are Hard) . Image: Facebook. (Used with permission.)

The Spanish documentary filmmaker Laura Herrero came to El Remolino, Mexico, to film a documentary about how a group of girls from the south of the country who were fighting discrimination, but her contact with the town didn't end with that project. Once in El Remolino, Herrero stayed to follow the lives of the people in the town, specially that of Esther and Pedro, two members of a local community, whose stories involved personal journeys, struggles with nature, and grappling with their own sexual identities. 

The first set of stories appears in the documentary “Son Duros Los Días Sin Nada (The Days Without Anything Are Hard), and another film, “El Remolino” (named after the community), presents a second collection.

Portraying discrimination and social studies, “Son Duros Los Días Sin Nada” was released in 2012. After two and a half years of work and 11 visits to the community, the second film, “El Remolino,” appeared in Mexico's documentary film festival Ambulante 2016. The community is situated by the banks of the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas. According to Herrero, its inhabitants live “surrounded by an abundant but fragile nature, [in which] they fight with the river that brings them as much sustenance as it does flooding.” 

For Herrero, the experience of the documentary went beyond mere filming, saying she learned a great deal in El Remolino, both from the community and alongside it. In an interview with the website Crash, Herrero recounted the context of these experiences, saying that sometimes she would see just one thing differently and it changed her broader perceptions. For example, foreigners in some circumstances would see only a natural disaster, where members of the community might embrace the flooding season as a time for reflection and introspection.

Images of Everyday Life: From the Personal to the Universal

The film follows the stories of Esther and Pedro, two members of the community and central characters in the documentary, with whom Herrero formed the strongest bond. Talking to Crash, Herrero said these people were pillars in her learning:

Esther [es] una mujer llena de fortaleza que saca adelante a su familia y nos comparte su mundo a través de una pequeña cámara […] Su hermano Pedro [es] un campesino travesti que defiende su identidad y sus sueños.

Esther [is] a woman who is full of strength, who provides for her family and shares her world with us through a small camera […]. Her brother Pedro [is] a transvestite farmer who defends his identity and his dreams.

In an interview with Ambulante, Herrero also described the learning exchange that she saw in Esther, who discovered by meeting the documentary team the fascination of creating images relating to her daily life:

Nos veía a nosotras llegar y grabar con la cámara. Ella hizo una gran reflexión sobre el inmortalizar, el grabar.. Ella consiguió su cámara de video y empezó a grabar. Durante el rodaje, puso una tienda, empezó a estudiar, se compró la cámara… hubo un fortalecimiento muy grande en ella. Empezó a grabar la inundación, a Dana [su hija], a grabar a su papá, las fiestas familiares y poco a poco empezó a hacer imágenes más subjetivas.

She would watch us arriving and recording with the camera. She reflected greatly on the immortalizing—on the filming. She got her video camera and began to record. During the filming, she set up shop, began to research, bought herself the camera… there was a very great strengthening in her. She began to film the flooding and Dana [her daughter]. She filmed her dad, family gatherings, and little by little she began to record more subjective footage.

Pedro, Esther's biological brother, is a 47-year-old farmer who is going through the process of gender identification to be recognized as a woman. From a young age, Pedro viewed her gender identity as that of a woman, despite the lack of understanding, discrimination, and exclusion that she endured. She now counts on the support of her family. Herrero focused on Pedro's efforts to share information and exchange information about her transition.

Asked about poverty and how the authorities have abandoned towns like El Remolino, Herrero came back to sexual identity:

Es alucinante cómo en estos pueblos tan anclados y pobres […] hay gente como Esther y Pedro, que tengan una lucha política y de identidad sexual. Esther es una mujer que trabaja en el campo y que tiene más ingresos que su marido. Por otra parte, Pedro quiere transformarse al otro sexo y sigue intentándolo. Le da igual, porque [con respecto a su identidad sexual] sabe que no puede tapar el sol con un dedo.”

It's amazing how in these towns that are so tied down and poor […], there are people like Esther and Pedro, who have a political struggle and a struggle for sexual identity. Esther is a woman who works in the field and earns more money than her husband. Pedro, on the other hand, wants a sex change and keeps trying to make it happen. She doesn't mind [to struggle for this] because she knows [that regarding her sexual identity] she can't bury her head in the sand.

Herrero also spoke about the importance of telling stories and preserving them with sounds and images:

Creo que lo primero que hace el cine es embalsamar un momento de la historia, y lo guarda para siempre de una forma. Es importante considerar el cine documental como una manera de mantener esta historia viva y que pueda ser recordada.

I believe that the first thing cinema does is to embalm a moment in history, and then it keeps it forever, in a way. It is important to consider documentary cinema as a way of keeping this story alive, so it can be remembered.

by Laura Macfarlane at June 25, 2016 03:17 PM

Joi Ito
Reinventing Bookkeeping and Accounting (In Search of Certainty)

Accounting underlies finance, business, and enables the levying of taxes for raising armies, building cities, and managing resources at scale. In fact, it is the way that the world keeps track of almost everything of value.

Accounting predates money, and was originally used by ancient communities to track and manage their limited resources. There are accounting records from Mesopotamia dating back more than 7,000 years, listing the exchange of goods. Over time, accounting became the language and information infrastructure for trade. Accounting and auditing enabled the creation of vast empires, such as those built by the Egyptians and the Romans.

As accounting scaled, it made sense to go from counting sheep, bushels of grain, and cords of wood, to calculating and managing resources using their exchange value in terms of an abstract unit: money. In addition to exchange, money allowed for recording and managing obligations. So where earlier bookkeeping just kept records of promises and exchanges between individuals (Alice lent Bob a goat on this date), money opened up a new realm of accounting by dramatically simplifying the management of accounts and allowing markets, companies, and governments to scale. However, through the centuries, this once powerful simplification has a resulted in a surprising downside-a downside made worse in today's digitally connected world.

Defining Value

While companies today use enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to keep track of widgets, contractual obligations, and employees, the accounting system-and the laws that support it-require us to convert just about everything into monetary value, and enter it into a ledger system based on the 700-year-old double-entry bookkeeping method. This is the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century and described by Luca Pacioli, the "father of accounting," in his book Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalità, published 1494.

When you take, for instance, a contract that pays out $1 million if it rains tomorrow, and put it into your accounts, you will be required to guess the chance of rain-maybe 50 percent-and value that asset at something like $500,000. The contract will actually never pay out $500,000; in the end, it will either be worth zero (no rain) or $1 million (rain). But if you were forced to trade it today, you'd probably sell it for something close to $500,000; so for tax and management purposes, you "value" the contract at $500,000. On the other hand, if you are unable to sell it because there are no buyers, it might actually be valued at zero today by regulators interested in liquidity, but then suddenly valued at $1 million tomorrow if it rains.

Basically, a company's accounts are an aggregate of cells in various ledgers with numbers that represent a numerical value denominated in some currency-yen, dollars, euros, etc.-and those numbers are added up and organized into both a balance sheet and an income statement that show the health of the company to management and investors. They are also used to calculate profits and the amount of tax owed to governments. This balance sheet is a list of assets and liabilities. If you looked in the assets column, you'd have a number of items that you would be reporting as having value, including things like printing presses, lines of code, intellectual property, obligations from people who may or may not pay you in the future, cash in various countries' currencies, and best guesses on things like the future prices of a commodity or the value of another company.

As an auditor, investor, or trading partner, you might want to drill down and try to test the assumptions that the company is making and see what would happen if those were incorrect at the time they were recorded, or turned out to be wrong sometime in the future. You might also want to understand how buying another company would change your own company based on the way your obligations and bets interacted with theirs. You could rack up millions of dollars in auditor fees to "get to the bottom" of any number of assumptions. The process would involve manually reviewing the legal contracts, and also the assumptions made in every cell of every spreadsheet. That's because standard accounting is a very "lossy" process that reduces complex and context-dependant functions and transforms them into static numbers at every step. The underlying information is somewhere, but only exposed with a lot of manual digging.

The modern complex financial system is full of companies that have figured out ways to guess when investors and the companies themselves have made mistakes in their assumptions. These companies bet against a company with inaccurate pricing or take advantage of the gap in information to convert this into financial returns for themselves. When these mistakes are duplicated across the system, it can cause fluctuation amplification that also allows companies to make more money both as markets rise, as well as fall, if they can successfully predict those fluctuations. In fact, as long as the whole system doesn't collapse, smart traders make more money on fluctuation than on stability.

Just like rodent exterminators aren't excited about the idea of rodents being completely eliminated because they would no longer have jobs, those financial institutions that make money by "making the system more efficient and eliminating waste" don't really want a stable system that isn't wasteful.

Right now, the technology of the financial system is built on top of a way of thinking about money and value that was designed back when all we had were pen and paper, and when reducing the complexity of the web of dependencies and obligations was the only way to make the system functionally efficient. The way we reduce complexity is to use a common method of pricing, put elements into categories, and add them up. This just builds on 700­-year­-old building blocks, trying to make the system "better" by doing very sophisticated analysis of the patterns and information without addressing the underlying problem of a lossy and oversimplified view of the world: a view where everything of "value" should be as quickly as possible recorded as a number.

The standard idea of the "value" of things is a reductionist view of the world that is useful to scale the trading of commodities that are roughly of equal worth to a large set of people. But, in fact, most things have very different values to different people at different times, and I would argue that much-if not most-things of value can't and probably shouldn't be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet. Financial "value" has a very specific meaning. A home clearly has "value" because someone can live in it and it's useful. However, if no one wants to buy it and no one is buying similar homes on the market, you can't set a price for it; it is illiquid and it is impossible to determine its "fair market value." Some contracts and financial instruments are nonnegotiable, may not have a "fair market value," and may even have no value to you if you needed money (or an apple) RIGHT NOW. Part of the confusion comes from the difficulty of describing legal and mathematical ideas in plain English, and the role of context and timing.

One example is exchange rates. My wife moved to Boston from Japan several years ago, but still converts prices into yen. She sometimes comments on how expensive something has gotten because the value of the yen has diminished. Because most of our earnings and spending are in dollars, I always have to remind her, the "value" in yen is irrelevant to her now, although not irrelevant to her mother, who is in Japan.

We have become accustomed to the notion that things have a "price," and that "price" is equivalent to its "value." But an email from you to me about a feeling that you had about our last conversation is probably valuable to me at a particular time and probably not valuable to most people. A single apple is worth a lot more to a hungry person than the owner of an apple orchard. Context is everything.

"Can't Buy Me Love" - The Beatles

The economics notion of consumers making financial decisions to maximize "utility" as a kind of proxy for happiness is another example of how the notion of a universal system of "value" oversimplifies its complexity-so much so that the models that assume that humans are "economically rational" actors in a marketplace simply don't work. The simplest version of this model would mean that the more money you had, the happier you would be, which Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton argue is true up to about $75,000 a year in annual income.[1]

Today, we have the technology and the computational power to create a system of accounts that could retain and deal with a lot of the complexity that the current system was designed to avoid. There is, for example, no reason that every entry in our books needs to be a number. Each cell could be an algorithmic representation of the obligations and dependencies that it represents. In fact, using machine learning, accounts could become sophisticated probabilistic models for what might happen depending on how things around them change. This would mean that the "value" of any system would change depending on who was asking, their location, and the time parameters.

Today, when a bank regulator conducts a stress test, it gives a bank a scenario-changes in the credit markets or the prices of certain things. The bank is then required to return a report on whether it would crash or remain solvent. This requires a lot of human labor to go through the accounts and run simulations. But what if the accounts were all algorithmic, and instead you could instantly run a program to provide the answer to the question? What if you had a learning model that could answer a more important question: "What sets of changes to the market WOULD make it crash, and why?" That's really what we want to know. We want to know this not just for one bank, but the whole system of banks, investors, and everything that interacts.

When I'm buying something from a company-let's say a credit default swap from your company, AIG-what I would want to know is whether, when the day comes to pay the obligation, in the unlikely chance that the AA mortgage-backed bonds that I was betting against defaulted, would your company be able to pay? Right now, there is no easy way to do this. However, what if all of the obligations and contracts, instead of being written on paper and recorded as numbers, were actually computable and "visible"? You'd immediately be able to see that, in fact, in the scenario in which you'd have to pay me, you'd actually have no money since you'd written similar contracts to so many people that you'd be broke. Right now, even the banks themselves can't see this unless an internal investigator thinks to look for this ahead of time.

Rethinking the Fundamentals of Accounting

With cutting edge cryptography like zero-knowledge proofs and secure multiparty computation, there are ways we might be able to keep these accounts open to each other without compromising business and personal privacy. While computing every contract as a cell in a huge set of accounts, every time anyone asked a question it would exceed even today's computing capacity. But with machine learning and the creation of models, we might be able to dampen, if not stabilize, the massive amplifications of fluctuations. These bubbles and collapses occur today, in part, because we are building our whole system on an oversimplified house of cards, with the handlers having an incentive to make them fragile and opaque in order to introduce inefficiencies they can exploit later to make money for themselves.

I think the current excitement about Bitcoin and distributed ledgers has created a great opportunity to take advantage of its flexible and reprogrammable nature, allowing us to rethink the fundamental system of accounts. I'm much more interested in this than in apps for banks, or even new ideas in finance, which will address some of the symptoms without taking a shot at eliminating one of the root causes of the impossibly complex and outdated system that we've built on a 700 year old double-entry bookkeeping method-the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century. It feels like we are using integers when we should be using imaginary numbers. Reinventing accounting should be more like discovering a new number theory than tweaking the algorithms, which is what I feel like we've been doing for the last several hundred years.

--

Originally posted on PubPub.ito.com. Please read and post comments there.

References

[1]Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2010).

by Joi at June 25, 2016 11:20 AM

The Fintech Bubble

Leafy bubble
Photo by Martin Thomas via Flickr - CC-BY

In 2015, I wrote a blog post about how I thought that Bitcoin was similar in many ways to the Internet. The metaphor that I used was that Bitcoin was like email - the first killer app - and that the Bitcoin Blockchain was like The Internet - the infrastructure that was deployed to support it but that could be used for so many other things. I suggested that The Blockchain was to finance and law what the Internet was to media and advertising.

I still believe it is true, but the industry is out over its skis. Over a billion dollars have been invested in Bitcoin and Fintech startups, tracking and exceeding investment in Internet investments in 1996. Looking at many of the businesses, they look like startups during that period, but instead of pets.com, we have blockchain for X. I don't think today's blockchain is the Internet in 1996 - it's probably more like the Internet in 1990 or the late 80's - we haven't agreed on the IP protocol and there is no Cisco or PSINet. Many of the application layer companies are building on an infrastructure that isn't ready from a stability or a scalability perspective and they are either bad idea or good idea too early. Also, very few people actually understand the necessary combination of cryptography, security, finance and computer science to design these systems. Those that do are part of a very small community and there are not enough to go around to support the $1bn castle we are building on this immature infrastructure. Lastly, unlike content on the Internet, the assets that the blockchain will be moving around and the irreversibility of many of the elements do not lend the blockchain to the same level agile software development - throw stuff out and see what sticks - that we can do for web apps and services.

There are startups and academics working on these basic layers, but I wish there were more. I have a feeling that we might be in a bit of a bubble and that bubble might pop or have a correction, but in the long run, hopefully we'll figure out the infrastructure and will be able to build something decentralized and open. Maybe a bubble pop will get rid of some of the noise from the system and let us focus like the first dot-com bust did for the Internet. On the other hand, we could end up with a crappy architecture and a bunch of fintech apps that don't really do much more than make existing things more efficient. We are at an important moment where decisions will be made about whether everyone will trust a truly decentralized system and where irresponsible deployments could scare people away. I think that as a community we need to increase our collaboration and diligently eliminate bugs and bad designs without slowing down innovation and research.

Instead of building apps, we need to be building the infrastructure. It's unclear whether we will end up with some version of Bitcoin becoming "The Internet" or whether some other project like Ethereum becomes the single standard. It's also possible that we end up with a variety of different systems that somehow interoperate. The worst case would be that we focus so much on the applications that we ignore the infrastructure, miss out on the opportunity to build a truly decentralized system, and end up with a system that resembles mobile Internet instead of wired Internet - one controlled by monopolies that charge you by the megabyte and have impossibly expensive roaming fees versus the flat fee and reasonable cost of wired Internet in most places.

There are many pieces to the infrastructure that need to be designed and tested. There are many ideas for different consensus protocols - the way in which a particular blockchain makes their public ledger tamper proof and secure. Then there are arguments about how much scriptability should be built into the blockchain itself versus on a layer above it - there are good arguments on either side of the argument. There is also the issue of privacy and anonymity versus identity and regulatory controls.

It looks like the Bitcoin Core developer team is making headway on Segregated Witness which should address many concerns including some of the scaling issues that people have had. On the other hand, it looks like Ethereum which has less history but a powerful and easier to use scripting / programing system is getting a lot of traction and interest from people trying to design new uses for the blockchain. Other projects like Hyperledger are designing their own blockchain systems as well as code that is blockchain agnostic.

The Internet works because we have clear layers of open standards. TCP/IP, for instance, won over ATM - a competing standard in some ways - because it turned out that the end-to-end principle where the core of the network was super-simple and "dumb" allowed the edges of the network to be very innovative. It took awhile for the battle between the standards to play out to the point where TCP/IP was the clear winner. A lot of investment in ATM driven technology ended up being wasted. The problem with the blockchain is that we don't even know where the layers should be and how we will manage the process of agreeing on the standards.

The (Ethereum) Decentralized Autonomous Organization project or "The DAO" is one of the more concerning projects I see right now.* The idea is to create "entities" that are written in code on Ethereum. These entities can sell units similar to shares in a company and invest and spend the money and operate much like a fund or a corporation. Investors would look at the code and determine whether they thought the entity made sense and they would buy tokens hoping for a return. This sounds like something from a science fiction novel and we all dreamed about these sorts of things when, as cypherpunks in the early 90's, we dared to dream on mailing lists and hacker meetups. The problem is, The DAO has attracted over $200M in investors and is "real," but is built on top of Ethereum which hasn't been tested as much as Bitcoin and is still working out its consensus protocol even considering a completely new consensus protocol for their next version.

It appears that The DAO hasn't been fully described legally and may expose its investors to liabilities as partners in a partnership. Unlike contracts written by lawyers in English, if you screw up the code of a DAO, it's unclear how you could change it easily. Courts can deal with mistakes in contract language by trying to determine the intent, but in code enforced by distributed consensus rules, there is no such mechanism. Also, code can be attacked by malicious code and there is a risk that a bug could create vulnerabilities. Recently, Dino Mark, Vlad Zamfir, and Emin Gün Sirer - key developers and researchers - published "A Call for a Temporary Moratorium on The DAO" describing vulnerabilities in The DAO. I fear that The DAO also raises the red flags for a variety of regulators that we probably don't want at the table right now. The DAO could be the Mt. Gox for Ethereum - a project whose failure may cause many people to lose their money and cause the public and regulators to try to slam the brakes on blockchain development.

Regardless of whether I rain on the parade, I'm sure that startups and investors in this space will continue to barrel forward, but I believe that as many of us as possible should focus on the infrastructure and the opportunities at the lowest layers of this stack we are trying to build. I think that getting the consensus protocol right, trying to figure out how to keep things decentralized, how to deal with the privacy issues without causing over-regulation, how we might completely reinvent the nature of money and accounting - these are the things that are exciting and important to me.

I believe there are some exciting areas for businesses to begin working and exploring practical applications - securitization of things that currently have a market failure such as solar panels in developing countries, or applications where there are standardized systems because of the lack of trust creates a very inefficient market such as trade finance.

Central banks and governments have begun to exploring innovations as well. The Singapore government is considering issuing government bonds on a blockchain. Some papers have imagined central banks taking deposits and issuing digital cash directly to individuals. Some regulators have begun to plan sandboxes to allow people to innovate and test ideas in regulatory safety zones. It is ironically possible that some of the more interesting innovations may come from experiments by governments despite the initial design of Bitcoin having been to avoid governments. Having said that, it's quite likely that governments will be more likely to hinder rather than help the development of a robust decentralized architecture.


* Just a few days after this post, The DAO was "attacked" as I feared. Here's an interesting post by the alleged "attacker". Reddit quickly determined that the signature in that post wasn't valid. And another post by the alleged attacker that they're bribing the miners not to fork. Whether these are actually the attacker or epic trolls, very interesting arguments.

by Joi at June 25, 2016 11:16 AM

Credit for Help on Blog Posts


Copyright xkcd CC BY-NC

Back when I first started blogging, the standard post took about 5 min and was usually written in a hurry after I thought of something to say in the shower. If it had mistakes, I'd add/edit/reblog any fixes.

As my post have gotten longer and the institutions affected by my posts have gotten bigger, fussier and more necessary to protect - I've started becoming a bit more careful about what I say and how I say it.

Instead of blog first, think later - agile blogging - I now have a process that feel a bit more like blogging by committee. (Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. You, the reader are benefiting from better thought through blog posts because of this process.)

When I have an idea, I usually hammer out a quick draft, stick it in a Google Doc and then invite in anyone that might be able to help including experts, my team working on the particular topic and editors and communications people. It's a different bunch of people depending on the post, but almost everything I've posted recently is a result of a group effort.

Jeremy Rubin, a recent MIT grad who co-founded the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT mentioned that maybe I should be giving people credit for helping - not that he wouldn't help if he didn't get credit, but he thought that as a general rule, it would be a good idea. I agreed, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it elegantly. (See what I did here?)

I'm going to start adding contributors at the bottom of blog posts as sort of a "credits" section, but if anyone has any good examples or thoughts on how to give people credit for helping edit and contributing ideas to a post or an informal paper like my posts on my blog and pubpub, I'd really like to see them.

by Joi at June 25, 2016 11:12 AM

Global Voices
A Syrian Family in the US Creates Art and Music That They Couldn't Back Home
Jumana Jaber's project called "Chemo Therapy and Chemical Weapons." The Syrian artist says it juxtaposes her experience with breast cancer in 2006 with the Syrian government's attacks on its people now.  Credit: Courtesy of the Institute for International Education

Jumana Jaber's project called “Chemo Therapy and Chemical Weapons.” The Syrian artist says it juxtaposes her experience with breast cancer in 2006 with the Syrian government's attacks on its people now. Credit: Courtesy of the Institute for International Education

This article by Jason Strother originally appeared on PRI.org on June 21, 2016, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Jumana Jaber has taught visual arts at Montclair State University in the US state of New Jersey since 2013. It’s been a little different from her job teaching art and theater design in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

“Everything was new for me — new system, everything was different here,” Jaber, 55, says.

Jaber and her family of four are among the millions of Syrians who have fled their country since the start of the civil war in 2011. But they aren't living in the US as refugees. Instead, they arrived with the help of the New York-based Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund. Since 2002, the program has helped connect about 650 persecuted intellectuals (many from Iraq and Syria) with schools in the United States or in other safe countries. The fund splits the cost of settling academics and their families with a host institution for the first two years. It also arranges their J-1 exchange visitor and companion visas.

Listen to this story on PRI.org »

Jumana Jaber fled the war in Syria and now teaches in a college in New Jersey Credit: Courtesy of the Institute of International Education

Jumana Jaber fled the war in Syria and now teaches in a college in New Jersey Credit: Courtesy of the Institute of International Education

Sarah Willcox, the fund’s director, says Jaber and her family are typical of the people that the fund seeks to help.

“They are often dissidents,” Willcox says. “Scholars are targeted because they are recognized and respected people in their community.”

In Damascus, Jaber made art with political messages, including paintings that incorporated parts of chairs, which she says are symbols of power in Syria.

“The president, the boss, the sheikhs who say this is halal and this is not halal, you can do that, you can’t do that,” she says. “They control everything, these people who sit in these chairs everywhere.”

As the uprising against the Syrian government devolved into civil war, Jaber says her commute to work outside Damascus became nearly impossible. Then the university where she worked along with her husband, a ceramic artist, came under attack.

“We took the students to the basement,” Jaber says. “Some of my colleagues were killed.”

Jaber’s oldest son, Yazan Al-Hajari, also got caught up in the unrest. At the time, he was studying classical music at a Damascus conservatory and had his own band.

Chairs are symbol of power in Syria, says Syrian artist Jumana Jaber.  Credit: Courtesy of the Institute of International Education

Chairs are symbol of power in Syria, says Syrian artist Jumana Jaber. Credit: Courtesy of the Institute of International Education

“When the revolution started in Syria I had to make a decision,” says Al-Hajari, now 31. And after witnessing the force used to put down the revolt, he sided with the revolution — politically and musically. Al Hajari was detained a few times for speaking out against the government. He also wrote a satirical song critiquing Syria’s leaders and media. After uploading it to YouTube in 2012, he feared for his safety and fled to Beirut.

Eventually, the rest of the family also escaped to Lebanon, where Jaber was introduced to the Scholar Rescue Fund and offered the teaching job in New Jersey. The family now lives in the suburban town of Nutley, about 16 miles outside of New York City.

But they’re in the country on temporary visas. So Jaber, her husband and their two sons are applying for refugee status — a process that could take years.

Jaber says she feels free to create art here in the US that she never could have made in Syria. Her family is worried about rising anti-Muslim sentiment following the attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino, however — even though they aren't religious. Jaber says she tries not to let the atmosphere get to her.

“It’s hurts me a little bit,” she says. “But I have wonderful colleagues and friends and they understand our situation.”

Yazan Al-Hajari fled Syria after composing music that was critical of the Syrian regime.  Credit: Jason Strother

Yazan Al-Hajari fled Syria after composing music that was critical of the Syrian regime. Credit: Jason Strother

by Public Radio International at June 25, 2016 10:00 AM

Miriam Meckel
Grundeis

WiWo_Titel_26_16_Bank_Blog

Irgendwann als die Brexit-Entscheidung näher rückte, unterhielt ich mich mit einem Freund, der lange in London gelebt hat. Die Briten hatten immer ein feines Gefühl dafür, was richtig ist, wenn es an ihr Portemonnaie geht, sagte er, deshalb werden sie in der EU bleiben. Wir nickten beide. Er hatte Unrecht.

Trotz aller Studien und Prognosen zu den drastischen wirtschaftlichen Folgen eines Brexit für Großbritannien war es dieses Mal anders. Die Briten haben sich für den Austritt entschieden. Ein „Leave“ als Rettung vor der bürokratischen Dominanz der EU, vor der wachsenden Zahl an Migranten, vor dem Abstieg Großbritanniens von einer Weltnation zu einem Land, das mit seinem Bedeutungsverlust und mit sich selbst kämpft.

Die Entscheidung wird die Briten teuer zu stehen kommen. Mit der ersten erkennbaren „Leave“-Tendenz trat das britische Pfund eine Reise in die Abwertung an und hatte in den frühen Morgenstunden schon fast zehn Prozent an Wert verloren. Das mag sich, volatil wie die Reaktionen an den Märkten sind, zwischenzeitlich immer wieder etwas erholen. Aber so wie die Erkenntnis des nun beschlossenen Austritts langsam ins Weltbewusstsein sickert, so werden die Folgen der Entscheidung ebenfalls erst sukzessive sichtbar.

Bis zu einer Million Arbeitsplätze könnte der Austritt gefährden. Die Bank von England erwartet als Folge der Entscheidung einen Wachstumseinbruch von bis zu sechs Prozent. Und die einst so starke Handelsmacht Britannien segelt im lauen Lüftchen ihrer Unabhängigkeit von der EU: 63 Prozent der britischen Exporte gehen in die Eurozone. Neu zu verhandelnde Zollunionen oder Handelsabkommen werden den Export in die EU für britische Unternehmen pro Jahr um knapp 35 Milliarden Euro pro Jahr verteuern.

Die Fakten liegen seit langem auf dem Tisch. Entschieden aber hat die Fiktion, es könne Großbritannien durch den Brexit gelingen, zu nationaler Unabhängigkeit und Stärke zurückzukehren. Der Wunsch ist in diesen Zeiten verwirrender Weltlagen verständlich. Er wird nicht in Erfüllung gehen. Weil sich Weltmärkte nicht beliebig neu organisieren lassen. Weil Europa nur durch den Größenvorteil des Europäischen Binnenmarkts den USA oder China etwas entgegenzusetzen hat. Und auch weil ganze Industrien, wie der in Großbritannien wichtige Finanzsektor, von der Freizügigkeit von Waren, Dienstleistungen und Personen profitieren.

Die Brexit-Entscheidung ist eine große Enttäuschung für alle Europäer, die von den wirtschaftlichen Vorteilen des Binnenmarkts überzeugt sind. Auch für die Minderheit der Briten, die ahnt, wie sich ihr Land verändern wird, wenn die Verbindungen zu Europa gelockert werden. Vor allem erschüttert sie die berechtigten Erwartungen, ökonomische Vernunft werde über das populistische Argument neuer nationaler Stärke durch Alleingang siegen.

Traurig ist, dass sie auch alle diejenigen enttäuschen wird, die für den Austritt gestimmt haben, weil sie sich vom wirtschaftlichen Aufschwung abgekoppelt und von der Politik in London und Brüssel allein gelassen fühlen. Sie werden den folgenden wirtschaftlichen Einbruch in Großbritannien wieder am stärksten spüren. Ein Blick auf die Karte mit den einzelnen Abstimmungsergebnissen zeigt: Das Land ist gespalten. In den alten Industriezentren des Nordens, in den Midlands und den verblassten Küstenregionen wurde gegen den weiteren wirtschaftlichen Abstieg gestimmt und gegen eine Londoner Elite, die sich die Taschen voll macht und dabei den Rest der Nation fallen lässt.

Es wäre die Aufgabe von Premierminister David Cameron und der politischen Führungsriege in London gewesen, diese Sorgen und Nöte zu adressieren. Stattdessen hat Cameron in schlichtem Geist 2013 das Referendum angesetzt, um politisch seinen Allerwertesten zu retten. Der ist in der Nacht zum Freitag auf Grundeis gegangen. Der angekündigte Rücktritt ist die logische Konsequenz. Mitleid muss man da nicht haben.

wiwo.de

by Miriam Meckel at June 25, 2016 09:48 AM

June 24, 2016

Global Voices
Brexit: Heartbroken, But Not Broken
Brexit? London, UK 2016. PHOTO: Tomek Nacho (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Brexit? London, UK 2016. PHOTO: Tomek Nacho (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Morning clouds of disbelief have given way to sadness. I'm grieving, as are at least 16 million other people around me. Not only for the EU and for a united stance against the horrors of the world today, but also for the country I grew up in.

It's been exhausting to follow the lead up to the referendum. To feel myself tense up as someone in the room mentions UKIP, or Brexit. To have to be the one to say “but they're racist” and be met with “but their economic ideas make sense” by people I had formerly respected—and to repeatedly realise first-hand that so many of us have no problem with ignoring bigotry when it suits us. To know that if this had been the political climate when my parents were coming over from Bangladesh in the 70s, it's highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to grow up in the UK, or had any of the opportunities afforded me during my childhood.

“. . . had this been the political climate when my parents were coming over from Bangladesh in the 70s, it's highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to grow up in the UK, or had any of the opportunities afforded me during my childhood.”

It's been a strange process to watch from abroad as this anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment took hold in the UK. At first I tried to ignore it. I had that privilege: I live in Berlin, it doesn't affect me so much. Slowly, I took more notice. I started to talk to friends about it, to engage online, and yesterday, I flew back to help with some last-minute campaigning for the Remain campaign on polling day. I'm proud I did that, but I regret so much that it took me so long to get more involved.

I suspect many people will share that feeling today, too. Ignoring what's been going on in our country's politics is what got us here today. We were too comfortable, and uninvolved in decisions and politics that have made a huge impact on our lives. We didn't realise how much we had to lose, or that we needed to actively protect the rights that we enjoy, no matter how we feel about party politics.

Talking to friends yesterday, it came out that many of them talked about politics on Facebook for the very first time thanks to this referendum. Many of us grew up with a deep mistrust in the British political system. Seeing white men who went to Eton and Oxford coincidentally rise through the ranks to run the country, over and over again, will do that to you. Many in my social circles were relatively happy with the status quo. Not ecstatic, but doing okay; struggling to buy houses, but with jobs, and slowly paying off student debt. Again, a privilege, and one clearly not shared by many of the marginalised and disenfranchised people across the country who used this occasion to finally make their voices heard.

“Many in my social circles were relatively happy with the status quo. Not ecstatic, but doing okay; struggling to buy houses, but with jobs, and slowly paying off student debt. . . a privilege, and one clearly not shared by many of the marginalised and disenfranchised people across the country who used this occasion to finally make their voices heard.”

The country is split. The voting shows that. The splits are stark, too, from age, to levels of education, to geographic borders. Party politics had little to do with this. The lies and the misinformation that was spread during this campaign were poison, ugly untruths, irresponsible in the deepest sense of the word.

It's been hard to watch that happen, too. This is the dirtiest, most vicious campaign I've ever seen. Jo Cox's murder was an extra, devastating blow, but as Alex Massie wrote, you can't shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, and be surprised when someone breaks. I'm sad for the result, I'm sad for the way that the campaign played out, and I'm sad about the rising waves of right-wing sentiment that are spreading across the country. This isn't the country I grew up in.

And now? The fact it took us too long to realise what was happening, to take the threats seriously, to not just push for change but to defend what we hold dear, is something that we need to remember and not repeat. We've lost a lot yesterday, and our country won't be the same again.

It's nothing like the process I would have wanted, but we can't lose more, and now we need to do the very best we can. Whatever the party politics, those standing against bigotry, discrimination, and downright idiocy must stand together. I'm in grieving, but I'm conscious of the active, vocal role that we all need to play to prevent this getting worse.

As my friend Sarah wrote this morning: I'm heartbroken, but not broken.

by Zara Rahman at June 24, 2016 10:35 PM

Take a Virtual Reality Tour of West Papua’s Coral Reefs
Pristine reef of staghorn coral with juvenile batfish in Wayag Lagoon, Raja Ampat. Photo by Sterling Zumbrunn. Courtesy of Conservation International

Pristine reef of staghorn coral with juvenile batfish in Wayag Lagoon, Raja Ampat. Photo by Sterling Zumbrunn. Courtesy of Conservation International

The Bird’s Head peninsula in West Papua is one of the richest marine biodiversity centers in the world. Through a virtual reality film launched by American nonprofit Conservation International, we can now see the underwater treasures of Birds’ Head and feel like we are “scuba diving in a healthy reef.”

“Valen's Reef” is one of the films being screened at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It is released in partnership with YouTube.

The Bird’s Head region has more than 2,500 islands and reefs. It is home to 600 types of corals and 1,765 kinds of fish (including more than 40 species of sharks and rays). About 3 percent of the world's mangroves are located in this area. Scientists estimate that Bird’s Head holds more species of fish than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and more species of coral than the entire Caribbean Ocean.

Bird’s Head provides food, shelter, and livelihood to 760,000 West Papuans. West Papua is located in the eastern region of Indonesia.

“Valen's Reef” is more than just a film showcasing the marine treasures of Bird’s Head. It also tells the story of how a marine habitat threatened by destructive fishing was revived by a joint effort of community groups and conservationists. The film is narrated by a local fisher who dedicates his advocacy to protect the seas to his son, Valen.

The “Valen's Reef” film was created in partnership with virtual reality production company Vrse.works and Finch Company, with support from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

Watch the full video below and dive into the clear waters of Bird’s Head:

by Mong Palatino at June 24, 2016 09:00 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Using Data for More than Operations

While at Stanford to talk about "ethical data" I had a chance to read through the latest issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review within the walls where it is published.  One particular article, Using Data for Action and Impact by Jim Fruchterman, caught my eye.  Jim lays out an argument for using data to streamline operational efficiencies and monitoring and evaluation within non-profit organizations.  This hit one of my pet peeves, so I'm motivated to write a short response arguing for a more expansive approach to thinking about non-profit's use of data.

This idea that data is confined to operational efficiency creates a missed opportunity for organizations working in the social good sector. When giving talks and running workshops  with non-profits I often argue for three potential uses of data - improving operations, spreading the message, and bringing people together. Jim, who's work at Benetech I respect greatly, misses an opportunity here to broaden the business case to include the latter two.Data_Architecures_Workshop___SSIR_Data_on_Purpose

Data presents non-profits with an opportunity to engage the people they serve in an empowering and capacity-buiding way, reinforcing their efforts towards improving conditions on whatever issue they work on. Jim's "data supply chain" presents the data as a product of the organization's work, to be passed up the funding ladder for consumption at each level. This extractive model needs to be rethought (as Catherine D'Ignazio and I have argued).  The data collected by non-profits can be used to bring the audiences they serve together to collaboratively improve their programs and outcomes.  Think, for example, about the potential impacts for the Riders for Health organization he discusses if they brought drivers together to analyze the data about their routes and distances.  I wonder about the potential impacts of empowering the drivers to analyze the data themselves and take ownership of the conclusions.

Skeptical that you could bring people with low data literacy together to analyze data and find a story in it?  That is precisely a problem I've been working on with my Data Mural work. We have a process, scaffolded by many hands-on activities, that leads a collaborative groups through analyzing some data to find a story they want to tell, designing a visual to tell that data-driven story, and paint it as a mural.  We've worked with people around the world to do this.  Picking it apart leaves us with a growing toolkit of activities being used by people around the world.

Still skeptical that you can bring people together around data in rural, uneducated settings? My colleague Anushka Shah recently shared with me the amazing work of Praxis India. They've brought people together in various settings to analyze data in sophisticated ways that make sense because they rely on physical mappings to represent the data.

10648582_10154595083945290_8278261691487553342_o
Charting crop production and rainfall trends over time.

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Yes, that looks like a radar chart to me too.

These examples illustrate that the social good non-profits can deliver with data is not constrained to operational efficiencies.  We need to highlight these types of examples to move away from a story about data and monitoring, to one about data and empowerment.  In particular, thought leaders like SSIR and Jim Fruchterman should push for a broader set of examples of how data can be used in line with the social good mission of non-profits around the world.

Cross-posted to my datatherapy.org blog.

by rahulb at June 24, 2016 02:21 AM

Global Voices
Japan Gears Up for a Hot, Humid Rainy Season
Pedestrians holding umbrellas walk through a city street in the rain

Rainy Season in Japan, ‘梅雨’ (Tsuyu). Image from Flickr user Héctor García. License: CC BY-ND 2.0

Early June marks the start of the rainy season in Japan, known as tsuyu or baiu (梅雨, literally “plum rain”, as it coincides with the ripening of plums). Most people in Japan don't really like the rain and dread the start of tsuyu. The cloudy skies can be damper on the spirits, and the high humidity leaves many feeling more than a little irritable.

On top of that, sudden torrential rains can cause dangerous flash flooding.

As Kyushu experiences record amounts of rainfall, three are dead and three others are missing in Kumamoto prefecture.

Heavy rains from the tsuyu monsoon front have triggered landslides in Kumamoto, which was hit by a devastating series of earthquakes in May 2016. The landslides have killed three people and left three others missing.

The rainy season is caused by the convergence of cold northerly and warm southerly air masses. A seasonal rain front (前線, senzen) moves up from the east China coast from May to mid-July each year. Okinawa—Japan's southwestern-most prefecture—experiences the rainy season first, from early May, while the Tohoku region to the northeast of Tokyo isn't hit until mid-June. Hokkaido in the far north is barely affected by the rainy season.

Changes in precipitation intensity from today (June 21) 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Along with a drop in atmospheric pressure as the seasonal rain front moves east, we can expect to see active cumulonimbus clouds. The cycle brought about by the drop in pressure can be clearly observed in these patterns of precipitation intensity.

While flooding is not uncommon during the rainy season, at best the near-constant rainfall is considered to be a pesky inconvenience by most Japanese people. It's hard to dry laundry during the rainy season, and the temperature tends to fluctuate from sticky and sweltering to genuinely chilly.

#福岡 はひどい雨です 早くやまないと、シーツ洗えんやーん #梅雨#豪雨

A photo posted by HANACOCO❤️はなここ (@hanacoco12) on

Awful rain in #Fukuoka. If this doesn't let up soon, there's no way I'm going to be able to wash my sheets #rainyseason #heavyrain

While it doesn't rain every day of the rainy season, June is known for gloomy, gray skies and predictably bad weather.

#梅雨 #sky #town #町 #clouds #雲 #空 #雨 #rain

A photo posted by Hiroshi Terada (@ground696) on

I had some time on my hands, so I thought I'd take a drive in my car while it wasn't raining… but then this happened. Pretty bummed. #heavyrain #rainyseason

It's not all bad, though. There are some beautiful flowers that bloom during the season. Some of Japan's best scenery is even more picturesque when enshrouded in low-hanging clouds and mist.

Morning at Lake Gosho [in Morioka, Iwate]

Not even a hint of a breeze to disrupt the mirror-like surface of the lake. #reflectionsinthewater #lakegosho #tsunagihotsprings

If it means we can see such beautiful clouds, I guess tsuyu isn't all that bad.

The actual amount of rainfall tends to vary from day to day, and it's not unusual for a downpour one day to be followed by occasional showers or even clear skies the next.

Good morning.

Maybe it's the rain.

I'm feeling tired and down.

Have to keep my chin up.

Maybe posting these colorful flowers will help.

While grey skies can lead to low spirits, the rainy season also coincides with the blooming of beautiful hydrangeas.

An elegant symbol of the rainy season.

Rain never goes where it's needed, and yet it can often be found in places that could do better without it. It's a little frustrating. How's Kanto's water shortage now?

Taken at Gogendo Temple, Satte, Saitama.

Often seen around temples in June and July, they are known as ajisai (紫陽花) in Japanese.

A typical rainy season sky in Tokyo today. These are some little hydrangeas I spotted on the side of the road the other day. Looking at flowers really makes me aware of the seasons! Have a great day, everyone. (ASAGI)

The flowers are native to Asia and the Americas, and can be white, blue, red, pink, or purple.

#梅雨#雨降り#紫陽花

A photo posted by Fumiko (@lifeisbeautiful235) on

#rainyseason #rain #hydrangeas

It tends to be very hot and humid during the rainy season, but there isn't much relief to be had when it ends, as summers in Japan often reach scorching temperatures. Highs of almost 38°C  (or around 100° Fahrenheit) are not uncommon for much of the country.

White skies
The color of the rainy season

Good morning
Isn't it muggy?
With all this rain
Kyushu seems to be having a hard time again
I wonder if they're all right
Be careful
OK?

Keep your chins up
Be true to yourselves
Don't take on too much

I hope today is a lovely day
Filled with smiles

While flooding and the resulting landslides can be a serious problem, for most people the rainy season is simply an inconvenience, and is best spent holed up indoors where it's cool and dry. Perhaps this Twitter user is onto something; riding out the sultry months inside with a cup of coffee while listening to the sound of the rain doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.

Good morning.

The pitter-patter of rain

Come home at four
Sleep for an hour
Take a long shower

Coffee on the table

I savor it
Leave the house

Listen to the sound of rain bouncing off my umbrella.

by Sarah Lee Stones at June 24, 2016 01:14 AM

June 23, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
As Election Day Approaches, Zambia's Largest Independent Newspaper Shut Down by Tax Authority
The Post newspaper headline today. Image shared on its public Facebook page.

The Post newspaper headline announcing the shutter. Image shared on its public Facebook page.

In a move that is being seen by some as politically motivated and by others as a long overdue necessity, The Post newspaper, Zambia's largest independent daily newspaper, has had their offices locked up and their printing equipment seized by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) because of outstanding taxes alleged to be at K68 million (US$6.1 million).

The newspaper announced on their Facebook page on June 21, 2016, that ZRA and police officers acting on the instructions of the president's office stormed their offices around 17 hours, demanding that The Post settles the outstanding amount immediately.

The newspaper's general manager explained to the officers that the money in question had been settled almost completely, according to The Post's account of what happened. The officers, however, stated they had warrant of distress (which allows for the seizure of property and goods) that could not be revoked, even after The Post's lawyers produced a court order restraining the officers from issuing a warrant of distress. According to The Post, the officers then went ahead with dismissing all workers, confiscating equipment and locking up the premises.

The newspaper is known for biting criticism against the government. Its editors and journalists have been locked up and taken to court many times by successive governments since it was established in 1991. Last year, bullets were fired at the newspaper's newsroom. No one has been arrested for the incident. There are at least two cases against The Post in the courts at the moment.

Some people are suspicious of the timing. Zambians will be going to the polls to vote in general elections in August 2016, and the newspaper has been the main platform for the opposition candidates as the public media is owned and controlled by the government and the ruling party.

However, some Zambians believe President Edgar Lungu and his government are doing what they must by taking action against The Post.

For example, George Mu'chi Mubanga commented on The Post Facebook page saying:

That's job well done, I was almost voting EL out for not fulfilling his promise he made last year that he will get the money from the post back. Hard luck guys don't tak it personal!

Mike Mubanga concurred:

If really instructions are from state House, then state House is working, we need that money to buy medicines in hospitals.

Collins Musonda cheered the move:

No one is above the law.Dont think you own zambia!!!if a poor marketeer can pay tax what of Me'mbe [The Post owner] ?this is justice congrates ZRA [Zambia Revenue Authority].

Malone Zaza countered the arguments of those supporting the government:

The government itself owes contractors, food suppliers, stationery suppliers, pensioners, utility companies, and civil servants and nobody, NOBODY, has shut them down…. [President Edgar] Lungu is a danger to this Country's democracy…

Responding the The Post announcement which says ZRA was instructed by the State House, Chichi Love Musonda Jnr said:

I had no idea the Supreme Court was situated at state house!!!! Once again, your theatrics and usual manner of playing victim at full play!!! If you're as good a citizen as you demand for just about anyone to be ” Just Pay”.

On the same issue of State House instructions, Gabriel Mbewe asked:

“Under instructions from state house, was it state house that caused you not to be paying taxes?”

Opposing the decision to shut down The Post, Petronella Chanda wondered why foreign companies are treated differently when it comes to taxation:

Take time to understand taxation in Zambia you will realise how our tax laws crucify locals compared to foreigners.
It is no secret that foreign companies come to this country and receive tax holidays worth billions of kwacha after that holiday is over they leave and return in another name […]
We should be ashamed, objective and non biased. This has nothing to do with taxation or we would have dealt with all those multinationals that cheat our country through transfer pricing everyday.
This is sad that we can go savage on our own people.

Vycal Mulenga pointed out that there are many companies owing ZRA which have never been shut down. He then warned of anarchy:

Zambian politics, cadres and lack of information. ZRA should never lie that only the post owes it money. u will understand that closure of the post newspaper is purely politically motivated wen u cross check the list of companies owing ZRA millions and are operational. Tampering with the media has been the beginning of arnachy [sic] in many lands and not the tax liability to the governments. just an objective observation.

It has been reported that government-owned newspapers Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and the national broadcaster National Broadcasting Corporation owe ZRA over US$100,000. ZRA has never shut them down.

Closing the company is vindictive and retrogressive, argued John Mutofwe:

This news is soul troubling. Even if the Post owes ZRA ,there ought to be better ways to requidate the debt.closing the company is not only vindictive but alas..it's also retrogresive.Think of the employees across the country as well as those of us who love reading the post.

Fred Mumba is neither supporting The Post nor the action taken by ZRA:

Closing down the Post Newspapers & the printing plant is surely not the way to do things in a quest to recover Governments statutory obligations.
However,Fred Mmembe & The Post,you have yourselves to blame cause while on one hand you having insulting the Govt,on the other hand you have abrogated the law.So just pay your obligations.We want that money…Its our money as Citizens

Finally, Chrispine Chupa warned against tampering with press freedom in an election year:

I personally don't believe closing the Post Newspapers was the best thing to have done. So many people have just lost a job. Besides government loses a lot of pay-as-you-earn [a form of income tax], and other taxes. Regardless of the political preferences we all got, it is a very bad decision by the government to temper [sic] with press freedom especially in an election year like this one. I am extremely disappointed.

by Advox at June 23, 2016 10:14 PM

Founder of Protest Reporting Outlet Goes Missing in China
A photograph of demonstrations in Shandong province, posted on Twitter by Lu Yuyu. Photo via Weibo.

A photograph of demonstrations in Shandong province, posted on Twitter by Lu Yuyu. Photo via Weibo.

Lu Yuyu, founder of citizen media outlet Not in the News (非新聞)has been missing since June 15, along with his girlfriend.

The citizen news outlet has been reporting and distributing news of mass demonstrations in China via the Twitter account @wickedonnaa, Blogspot and YouTube since 2013.

The news team also keeps track of the scale and number of incidents, the number of arrested demonstrators and the reason behind the demonstrations through its monthly statistics report. It recorded 28,950 incidents in mainland China in 2015. The site recorded 9,869 incidents in the first quarter of 2016.

The site collects videos and photos of grassroots demonstrations from online sources and redistributes the news via various social media platforms. Twitter account @wickedonna is a major distribution spot and usually the account, managed by Lu Yuyu (Darkmamu), has several daily updates.

Since June 14, the @wickedonna account has posted no new updates. Lu's friend @youyuping alerted followers on June 20:

Urgently seeking missing person, @wickedonnaa, a highly sensitive news outlet [founder] has gone missing.

On Weibo, Lu's friend @ZGHQW99 is also looking for him:

卢 昱宇自11年来专业收集国内各种民间群体性事件,分别发布在他的新浪微博和推特上面,几年间从未间断过,让中外网友看到一个真实而苦难的中国。中国红旗网 《工农之声》版块也长期采用稿件。也一直上个星期,小卢突然失踪,至今无法联系到本人,连其家属的手机也突然处于无人接听状态,请各位多多关注!

Lu Yuyu has been researching mass incidents across the country since 2011 and distributing the news on Sina Weibo and Twitter. He has been doing this non-stop for years so that netizens from China and overseas can see people's suffering in China. Even [Party-affiliated] Hongqi's “Worker and Peasant” column has republished his writings. Last week, Lu went missing and out of contact. Even his relative's mobile phone is unanswered. Please pay attention to this.

In an interview with @beidaijin published on Paopao.net in 2014, Lu explained the mission of his work:

为抗争者放声助力,尽可能引起关注,将有效的抗争模式传递给更多处于近似境遇的人群以供参照。

To magnify the voices of the protesters and catch social attention. To spread people's experience of struggle so that others can learn from their successes or failures.

Lu began researching mass demonstrations and incidents in 2011 and began actively distributing the news through social media in 2013, developing what became a counterweight to China's online censorship regime. As witness accounts of protests are dispersed on social media and quickly deleted by web censors, Lu sought through his work to give people greater access to information of public interest and document a more complete picture of the incidents.

Lu Yuyu, the person behind @wickdonnaa which reports on Chinese mass incidents has been missing since June 15. Photo from Twitter user @youyuping

Lu Yuyu, the person behind @wickdonnaa. Photo from Twitter user @youyuping.

He usually spends eight hours a day tracking protest news on social media, cross-checking the information via different search engines, and verifying that videos and images are really coming from the protest spots. @hpgd0 praised Lu's work on Twitter after he learned about his disappearance:

“Not in the News” bares witness to so many sufferings for us. Putting such serious effort into this work is an act of respect. I sometimes intentionally ignore the news, as it takes courage to look at others’ suffering. But I notice that he keeps track of every incident, every day. These stories can make headline news in Japan, they are all loaded with social injustice. Society is not perfect, but filtering out negative news  will not make society better.

It is very likely that Lu and his girlfriend's disappearance is related to his citizen journalistic work. Many speculated that they have been detained because of recent protests in the town of Wukan, Shandong province, where protests have erupted over an ongoing land dispute. Xing Jian, an exiled dissident told Radio Free Asia:

乌坎事件再次持续升温,中国官方很有可能担心他们对乌坎事件会持续报道,所以人被失踪,也说明了中国政府对言论自由的进一步打压。我们呼吁国际社会及人权机构予以关注

As Wukan incident continued to gain public attention, the Chinese authorities are worried about media reports on the protest. That's why they made him vanish. This is a further suppression of freedom of press. We urge international society and human rights organizations to pay attention on this.

by Oiwan Lam at June 23, 2016 09:58 PM

Global Voices
Founder of Protest Reporting Outlet Goes Missing in China
A photograph of demonstrations in Shandong province, posted on Twitter by Lu Yuyu. Photo via Weibo.

A photograph of demonstrations in Shandong province, posted on Twitter by Lu Yuyu. Photo via Weibo.

Lu Yuyu, founder of citizen media outlet Not in the News (非新聞), has been missing since June 15, along with his girlfriend.

The citizen news outlet has been reporting and distributing news of mass demonstrations in China via the Twitter account @wickedonnaa, Blogspot and YouTube since 2013.

The news team also keeps track of the scale and number of incidents, the number of arrested demonstrators and the reason behind the demonstrations through its monthly statistics report. It recorded 28,950 incidents in mainland China in 2015. The site recorded 9,869 incidents in the first quarter of 2016.

The site collects videos and photos of grassroots demonstrations from online sources and redistributes the news via various social media platforms. Twitter account @wickedonna is a major distribution spot and usually the account, managed by Lu Yuyu (Darkmamu), has several daily updates.

Since June 14, the @wickedonna account has posted no new updates. Lu's friend @youyuping alerted followers on June 20:

Urgently seeking missing person, @wickedonnaa, a highly sensitive news outlet [founder] has gone missing.

On Weibo, Lu's friend @ZGHQW99 is also looking for him:

卢 昱宇自11年来专业收集国内各种民间群体性事件,分别发布在他的新浪微博和推特上面,几年间从未间断过,让中外网友看到一个真实而苦难的中国。中国红旗网 《工农之声》版块也长期采用稿件。也一直上个星期,小卢突然失踪,至今无法联系到本人,连其家属的手机也突然处于无人接听状态,请各位多多关注!

Lu Yuyu has been researching mass incidents across the country since 2011 and distributing the news on Sina Weibo and Twitter. He has been doing this non-stop for years so that netizens from China and overseas can see people's suffering in China. Even [Party-affiliated] Hongqi's “Worker and Peasant” column has republished his writings. Last week, Lu went missing and out of contact. Even his relative's mobile phone is unanswered. Please pay attention to this.

In an interview with @beidaijin published on Paopao.net in 2014, Lu explained the mission of his work:

为抗争者放声助力,尽可能引起关注,将有效的抗争模式传递给更多处于近似境遇的人群以供参照。

To magnify the voices of the protesters and catch social attention. To spread people's experience of struggle so that others can learn from their successes or failures.

Lu began researching mass demonstrations and incidents in 2011 and began actively distributing the news through social media in 2013, developing what became a counterweight to China's online censorship regime. As witness accounts of protests are dispersed on social media and quickly deleted by web censors, Lu sought through his work to give people greater access to information of public interest and document a more complete picture of the incidents.

Lu Yuyu, the person behind @wickdonnaa which reports on Chinese mass incidents has been missing since June 15. Photo from Twitter user @youyuping

Lu Yuyu, the person behind @wickdonnaa. Photo from Twitter user @youyuping.

He usually spends eight hours a day tracking protest news on social media, cross-checking the information via different search engines, and verifying that videos and images are really coming from the protest spots. @hpgd0 praised Lu's work on Twitter after he learned about his disappearance:

“Not in the News” bares witness to so many sufferings for us. Putting such serious effort into this work is an act of respect. I sometimes intentionally ignore the news, as it takes courage to look at others’ suffering. But I notice that he keeps track of every incident, every day. These stories can make headline news in Japan, they are all loaded with social injustice. Society is not perfect, but filtering out negative news  will not make society better.

It is very likely that Lu and his girlfriend's disappearance is related to his citizen journalistic work. Many speculated that they have been detained because of recent protests in the town of Wukan, Shandong province, where protests have erupted over an ongoing land dispute. Xing Jian, an exiled dissident told Radio Free Asia:

乌坎事件再次持续升温,中国官方很有可能担心他们对乌坎事件会持续报道,所以人被失踪,也说明了中国政府对言论自由的进一步打压。我们呼吁国际社会及人权机构予以关注

As Wukan incident continued to gain public attention, the Chinese authorities are worried about media reports on the protest. That's why they made him vanish. This is a further suppression of freedom of press. We urge international society and human rights organizations to pay attention on this.

by Oiwan Lam at June 23, 2016 09:54 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Russian Authorities Step Up Information Controls in the Name of National Security
Surveillance camera stencil art. Photo by Paul Lowry via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Surveillance camera stencil art. Photo by Paul Lowry via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

A new set of “anti-terrorist” amendments in Russia would affect more than ten different laws and would broadly expand the state's powers to control citizens’ civil rights.

As Russia-focused independent media site Meduza put it, the amendments would enable authorities to “…strip Russians of their citizenship, revoke the foreign travel rights of people convicted of reposting certain ‘wrong’ content online, and access every single telephone conversation and email that crosses Russia's telecommunications lines.”

The amendments also increase penalties for Internet users who “incite terrorist activity and justify terrorism,” raising the maximum prison term for such offences from five to seven years behind bars. Another will obligate telecommunications companies and organizers of “online information distribution” — including blogging platforms and social network websites — to store records of customers’ phone calls or voice data, text messages, images, videos, and other types of content for six months on Russian soil.

The amendments have already passed first reading in the Duma and it is widely expected that they will pass. They would take effect in July of 2018.

In another critical development, Russian state media regulator Roscomnadzor was recently granted new powers that allow it to revoke the domain names of websites that host child pornography. The power to revoke domain names in the .RU or .РФ domains adds to a growing list of extrajudicial privileges for Roscomnadzor and a handful of other Russian state agencies including the Interior Ministry, which have the status of “competent agencies”, meaning they are able to designate content as dangerous.

Global Voices author attacked at mayor’s house in Makassar, Indonesia

Two digital journalists in Makassar, Indonesia, were attacked on June 5, 2016, while attending an event at the Makassar mayor's house. The journalists, Global Voices Indonesian author Arpan Rachman and his wife, Icha Lamboge, were stopped by two men in black uniforms – not the standard uniform of city security guards – and asked for their journalist ID cards. One of the men then snatched Lamboge's mobile phone. When Rachman intervened and tried to get her phone back, the man grabbed punched him in the chest while the other man strangled him. Rachman has recovered well but both are fearful for their safety.

The couple worked together on stories they suspect may have provoked the incident, including coverage of controversial mass evictions taking place in central Makassar. There have been 12 cases of journalist abuse documented in Makassar thus far in 2016, according to the Alliance for Independent Journalists in Makassar.

More Tanzanians face charges under Cybercrime Act

A Tanzanian man is facing three years in prison following his conviction for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook in March 2016. Isaac Habakuk Emily allegedly posted a comment in reference to the President’s surprise live call to current affairs show 360, critiquing him for “theatrics in politics”. On June 22, another Tanzanian man was charged under the same law, again for insulting the president, though his message was posted on WhatsApp.

Opponents of the Cybercrime Act argue that the law gives too much power — without meaningful oversight — to police, bestowing upon them the ability to search the homes of suspected violators of the law, seize their electronic hardware, and demand their data from online service providers.

‘My case against Lenovo in Mexico’

Mexican blogger and technology researcher Jacobo Najera filed a challenge against computer manufacturer Lenovo concerning a pre-installed security software on the Yoga 2 laptop model that prevented users from installing a Linux free software operating system. Najera challenged Lenovo before Mexico’s Federal Consumer Protection Attorney, who decided in his favor, ruling that the company had not duly informed consumers of the machine’s technical limitations. Najera describes his experience in a first-person piece for Advox.

Singapore pulls plug on Internet access for public employees

Singapore’s government announced plans to restrict Internet access in government offices in what some people are calling an “Internet ban” for civil servants. The policy would require government workers to use special Internet terminals rather than their own computers in their offices if they need to access the web. Officials say the policy is an attempt to improve Singapore’s cybersecurity, but others have criticized it as drastic and unnecessary.

Kenya’s National Bank takes blogger to court

Kenya’s National Bank is suing blogger Cyprian Nyakundi for defamation over a series of posts on alleged corruption at the bank. In an initial hearing, a court issued an interim injunction restraining Nyakundi from publishing any statements defamatory of the Bank.

Telecom industry loses to net neutrality in US court challenge

A US appeals court fully upheld net neutrality rules that expanded federal oversight of Internet service providers, rejecting a lawsuit from telecom, cable and wireless industry associations that sought to challenge the so-called Open Internet Rules. Despite the rejection of their case, observers expect the telecom industry will seek an appeal before the Supreme Court.

New Research

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Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Tetyana Lockot, Ndesanjo Macha and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at June 23, 2016 09:39 PM

Rising Voices
The Language is Among Us: The Third Audio Documentary in the “Müpüley Tain Mapudungun” Series

In this third part of the project “Müpüley Tain Mapudungun” (Our Mapudungun Soaring), the participants at the workshop reflect on language.

They walk the streets of Buenos Aires trying to figure out how aware are people of the presence of the Mapudungun language in the city. The answers surprised more the respondents than the interviewers: in proper names of people, streets, cities, the Mapudungun language is everywhere, even in a city that sees itself as being European. They were also surprised by the beauty of the language, because this ancient language has words that are closely linked with the material or immaterial to what they refer; and with those sounds from where they are born, such as ‘treftrefi’ (the sound of a racing heart). These are the aims of this third and final documentary: to show the beauty of the sounds of the Mapuche language and to prove that it is more present than we imagine.

documentales sonoro mapuche 1a

The urban landscape in Buenos Aires includes the Spanish language from Buenos Aires, the English language at the market in front of the windows, and the objects that are part of the life in the big federal capital. At first glance, it seems that we are part of a single global culture. However, it is clear to everyone who wants to see that we are also surrounded by other cultures and other languages, such as the Mapudungun language. Even without knowing it.

In this third and last documentary, the workshop participants reflect on language with others who believe that they do not know anything about the Mapudungun language. Some participants with more knowledge of the language go out on the streets to find out how aware of its presence are those who live the daily city life. The answers surprised the respondents more than the interviewers: there are proper names of people, streets, cities in the Mapudungun language. Suddenly, we realise that this language is present in multiple spaces and uses and that not even its name is known: ‘the language of the land’.

documentales sonoros mapuche 1b

A dead language is a language that does not circulate, which is not renewed, which is no longer expressed; a language which no longer has those who give expression to the sound. Contrary to this, the Mapudungun language lives among us in the ‘longko’ [heads] of many speakers who have not let themselves be silenced, Mapuche and non-Mapuche people living the urban life. Unconsciously, all of us who live in the city help make the Mapudungun language circulate, in words that have always been in our speech without knowing where they came from. Thus, the work on language is necessary, especially in a context which is unfavorable for its vitality, so that it ceases to be an invisible participant in the city.

documentales sonoros mapuche 2

At one point in the documentary, children learn how to say hello, almost like in a game. They transit into new cultural territories since every language carries with it a world of meanings and references. In the Mapudungun language, there are words closely linked with the material or immaterial to which it refers; with those sounds from where they are born, as ‘treftrefi’ (the sound of a racing heart), the ‘wütaw-wütaw’ of the ‘piwke’ (heartbeat), the ‘chucaw’ (the name comes from the singing of the chucao bird) among others that allow an insight into the world of the Mapuche culture. These are the aims of this third documentary: to show the beauty of the sounds of the Mapuche language and to prove that it is more present than we imagine.

Also listen to:

Poesía Mapuche: primer documental sonoro de la serie “Müpüley taiñ mapudungun”

La lengua vive (Kiñe): segundo documental sonoro de la serie “Müpüley taiñ mapudungun”

by Teodora C. Hasegan at June 23, 2016 07:18 PM

Ian Bogost
Will Robocars Kick Humans Off City Streets?

Whenever people go from one place to another, they don’t think much about the roads and sidewalks that pass beneath them. But this infrastructure, known as the public right-of-way, doesn’t work by magic. It is managed and regulated by specific laws. People don’t own the roads they travel on, but streets and sidewalks provide an easement—a right of use or passage separate from that of ownership.

For example: a single-family homeowner usually owns the sidewalk that flanks a property, particularly if that sidewalk falls behind a tree-planting strip that separates it from the street. By local standard or writ, the homeowner grants an easement to the general public to use the sidewalk, utility companies to use the curb where utility lines run, and so forth. Similarly, cities, towns, and the federal government own the roads, but they grant easement to the public to make use of them for transport. The relationships between private and public landowners is managed by local land use and planning agencies. If a builder wants to construct a new driveway from an undeveloped private property to the public right of way, it needs to get permission to do so from the appropriate public agent. That same agent is responsible for maintaining the roads so that they are usable. Some roads, like freeways, don’t offer any private access and restrict public easement to vehicles.

Unfortunately, America’s roads have seen better days. After a massive investment in new infrastructure since the mid-20th century, streets, roads, and freeways have ossified. New roads are tough to build in established cities, and existing ones are increasingly difficult to improve. When roads do get built, they are usually constructed for new development in suburbs or subdivisions. Fear, local resident entrenchment, and lack of funding has hampered adequate upgrades of roads, too. America’s car cities—Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and Dallas, for example—have endured increased congestion when more and more cars travel on roads built for far fewer.

Even when the roads are clear, they are often in poor condition. The economic crisis of 2008 reduced the tax base that supports public service in the near term, but it also inaugurated a prolonged program of social austerity justified by that supposed crisis. And the longer maintenance and support gets deferred, the more complex and costly it becomes to catch up.

The state of public roads might have a surprising and substantial impact on the role of self-driving cars. Cars need roads to drive on, so the technology companies at the center of the robocar revolution might become increasingly invested in them. But roads themselves might become inaccessible to citizens if driving becomes fully autonomous.

…continue reading this article at The Atlantic

by Ian Bogost at June 23, 2016 05:59 PM

Global Voices
In Denmark, Imams and Priests Square Off in a Friendly Soccer Match
Photo by Saif Shah. Used with permission.

Photo by Saif Shah. Used with permission.

This story by Masih Sadat originally appeared in Danish on the website Opinionen. An edited version in English appears below with permission. 

In early June, in Denmark, priests and imams challenged each other over a game of soccer. But besides sports and fun, this day had another, more serious purpose to it – to defy the media picture and show that Danes are perfectly able to coexist despite cultural and religious differences.

It was a Saturday mid-afternoon and the sun’s heat warmed the soccer fields in one of Copenhagen’s sport arenas. Families and friends across gender, age, religious and ethnic divides had come together and placed themselves on the sidelines, ready to act as cheering squads. From the stands, youngsters yelled “imaaams,” while other spectators clapped, rooted and drummed for the sweaty players out on the field.

If the fans were typical, the teams were anything but. On both sides of the field were religious leaders, wearing soccer shoes and ready to play. On one side were Danish priests in blue jerseys, and on the other side Danish imams in red. Both had put aside their religious uniforms and holy books for a while to focus on one thing – the ball.

One goal, one society

The match was arranged by the organization, One Goal, One Society, recently founded by Nora Omari and Mikkel Lind. Beyond soccer, fun and heat, these two had something more serious on the agenda.

A statement from them on Facebook read:

Vi lever desværre i et samfund, hvor religion bliver anskuet som værende et af de mange faktorer, der er med til at skabe had mellem mennesker. Mange tror, at kristne og muslimer ikke kan enes, og vi ønsker at gøre op med de mange fordomme… Fodbold har som så ofte vist, at man kan samles mellem folkeslag og religioner, og med baggrund i verdens største sportsgren samles mennesker fra nord og syd, øst og vest i fredelig fordragelighed. Dette sker med sikkerhed også her.

Sadly, we live in a society in which religion is seen as something that contributes to creating hate between people. Many believe Christians and Muslims aren’t able to agree with each other, and we wish to break with these many prejudices … Soccer has in many cases proved to work as something that unites different peoples and religions. With the world’s most popular sport, people are gathered from north, south, east and west, in peaceful harmony. This will with certainty happen here as well.

Danish rabbis were also supposed to participate in the match on the imams’ team, but had to bow out because it took place on a Saturday – the weekly Jewish day of rest. A Danish magazine called Føljeton interviewed rabbi Jair Melchior, imam Waseem Hussain, and priest Jeppe Nissen before the big match:

Following the match, One Goal, One Society plans to arrange similar events in the future, co-founder Nora Omari said.

Vores primære formål vil være at samle mennesker sammen på tværs religioner, kulturer, hudfarve, etnicitet og alt, hvad der kan gøre af forskelle i samfundet.

Our primary aim will be gather people across religion, culture, skin color, ethnicity, and everything that is considered divisive in society.

Nora said she and Mikkel were inspired by a similar event in Norway, which received a large amount of support and positive feedback:

Vi fandt lynhurtigt ud af, at det var noget for os, fordi det er sjovt og fordi der er behov for det på grund af den negative politiske debat. Vi har brug for noget, der viser, at mennesker godt kan sammen.

We immediately came to realize that this event is needed here in Denmark both because it’s fun and because of the negative political debate taking place. We need something that shows that we as human beings are able to live together.

The media picture is flawed

In addition to soccer, musical performances with Persian frame drums called dafs, comedy from famous Arab-Danish comedian Omar Marzouk, and speeches by priest Nicolai Halvorsen and imam Naveed Baig were also on the programme.

Naveed Baig, a Pakistani hospital imam, gave the first talk:

Mit budskab for i dag er, at vi skal kigge på de små ting, der giver os glæder i hverdagen, og det er det, vi skal holde fast i. Vi skal kigge på os selv – ikke nødvendigvis som religiøse, men først og fremmest som mennesker, og det er det, vi er, når vi er på banen. Det møde, der er mellem eksempelvis muslimer og kristne i dag – det er dét, der giver noget. Bare på vores imam-hold er vi ni personer, men repræsenterer syv forskellige nationaliteter, og vi har både en shia-spiller og sunni-spillere.

My message for today is that we should aim to look for the small things in life that give us pleasure in day to day, and that's what we should hold on to. We have to look at ourselves – not necessarily as religious, but first and foremost as human beings, and that's what we are when we play on the field. The meeting that is taking place today, for example, between Muslims and Christians, that's what will give us something. Just as on our imam team we are only nine people, but still we represent a whole of seven different nationalities and we have both a Shia player and Sunni players.

Naveed said he was saddened by the negative picture that Danish media draws of the relationship between citizens of different walks of life in Danish society – a relationship which Naveed believes is working perfectly fine. For him, diversity already exists in Denmark, not just among Muslims, but among citizens in general. This, he believes, is something Danes should appreciate and be proud of.

Det er lidt ærgerligt, at man skal blive ved med at fortælle omverdenen, at vi ikke er hinandens fjender, men jeg er en optimistisk person, og jeg holder fast i håbet. Vi er i samme båd. Hvis en af os laver et hul i båden, så synker vi alle sammen. Må Gud give os styrke til at vi kan holde sammen og skabe en stærk sammenhængskraft for hinanden og for alle andre i Danmark.

It is unfortunate that one has to keep telling the world that we are not each other's enemies, but I am an optimistic person and I will hold onto hope. We are all in the same boat. If one of us makes a hole in the boat, we will all sink. May God give us strength enough to stay together and create a strong cohesive power for each other and for everyone in Denmark.

‘Religious people are able to function together’

In the opinion of all of the players, the event was a successful one. Especially for the imams, who beat the priests in the final match and won the trophy with a 3-1 victory.

Credit: Saif Shah

Photo by Saif Shah. Used with permission.

For Thomas Nedergaard, a priest at uKirke in Vesterbro (central Copenhagen), the match wasn't meant to be a superficial public relations stunt:

Det skulle være præster og imamer, der skulle spille fodbold imod hinanden. Det gjorde vi, og det var sjovt. Jeg håber, at kampen vil skabe et billede af, at vi hænger sammen i stedet for, at vi er adskilte. At der er kærlighed imellem os, og ikke frygt.

It was supposed to be priests and imams playing some soccer with each other and that was what we did – and it was fun. I truly hope this match will prove that we belong together rather then being apart; that there is love between us and not fear.

Waseem Hussain, an imam and chairman of the Danish Islamic Center, shared the same hope. He said he also believes that citizens in Denmark, across religions and cultures, are able to live together:

Sådan et event som i dag vil kunne hjælpe med at bryde nogle fordomme og vise, at religiøse mennesker sagtens kan sammen, og at det ikke er værre end som så. Man stirrer sig som regel blind på problemerne i stedet for at se på de løsninger og de ting, man kan udrette sammen. Det er ligesom, at hvis vi eksempelvis havde en fodboldbane her – så kunne vi alle sammen, som fodboldspillere, stå og kigge på et eller andet hul, en ujævnhed, og stå og brokke os over den. Eller vi kunne vælge at sige: nå ja, der er en ujævnhed, men nu spiller vi den kamp alligevel.

An event like the one today will help break some prejudices and show that religious people are perfectly able to function together, and that it is not worse than that. We are used to looking blindly at the problems we have, rather than looking at the solutions and the things we can accomplish together. It's like if we, for example, had a soccer field here, then we, the soccer players, could all choose to either just look at some hole, an irregularity, and just complain about it, or we could choose to say, oh well, there's a hole, a problem, but we will play the game anyways.

“And what made the day even better is the fact that we won,” Imam Naveed added, laughing.

The organizers of the match Nora and Mikkel have got big plans for their project following this success. “We will continue doing this and on a bigger scale, and hope that it will have a ripple effect.” Their next event will be women's only and possibly with other type of sports.

Credit: Saif Shah

Photo by Saif Shah. Used with permission.

by Masih Sadat at June 23, 2016 05:48 PM

In the Battle for More Transparency in Mexico, Politicians Win This Round
Edificio del Senado de la República Mexicana en la Ciudad de México. Foto de Haakon S. Krohn used under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mexican Republic Senate Office in Mexico City. Wikimedia Commons photo by Haakon S. Krohn used under license CC BY-SA 3.0.

Mexico's Congress approved a package of new laws and legal reforms to combat corruption on June 17, 2016. What at first glance might seem like a step in the right direction instead generated a wealth of controversy thanks to lawmakers watering down a measure related to the transparency of politicians’ declared assets.

The legislative work was the result of an anti-corruption constitutional amendment passed in 2015. That amendment anticipated the creation of a National Anti-Corruption System by bringing existing organizations together such as the Federal Auditing Office and the Civil Service Secretary, among others, and forming the District Attorney Specialized in the Fight Against Corruption.

An unprecedented citizen's initiative followed, promoted on social media as #Ley3de3 (3of3 Law), formally requesting that legislators include in the National Anti-Corruption System an obligation for politicians to publicly divulge their taxes, assets, and conflicts of interest. Public officials already had to declare their assets; however, publishing this data was (and still is) optional. By forcing the publication of this data, the 3of3 Law hoped to increase transparency in politics.

But the 3of3 Law didn't come to pass. Independent news site Animal Político (Political Animal) reported the result of the senators’ work:

El Senado aprobó la Ley General del Sistema Anticorrupción y de Responsabilidades Administrativas, pero ignoró la demanda ciudadana para obligar a todos los funcionarios a publicar su declaración patrimonial, fiscal y de interés con el formato de la plataforma #3de3.

The Senate approved the General Law of the Anti-Corruption System and Administrative Responsibilities, but ignored the citizen’s demand to require all civil servants to publish their taxes, assets, and conflicts of interest with the #3of3 platform's format.

The approved law stipulates – ambiguously – that the declarations of assets that citizens wanted must exist, but restricts the publication of anything “that may affect the private life”, thus allowing a legal loophole to avoid making the information public.

In his column for the newspaper Exclésior, analyst Leo Zuckermann addressed specifically the legislators who approved the laws:

Son los políticos que no han entendido el hartazgo de la ciudadanía por la corrupción. Son los que optaron por defender sus intereses –escondiendo su riqueza, mucha de ella mal habida– a reformar el régimen político para fortalecer la democracia. Dice el refrán popular que “el que nada debe, nada teme”. Pues aquí estamos frente a mucho temor, pavor, terror a que la ciudadanía se entere de lo ricos que son nuestros políticos, muchos de los cuales sólo han trabajado en el sector público toda su vida profesional acumulando riqueza que no se sustenta con los sueldos que han recibido.

It’s the politicians who haven’t understood citizens are fed up with corruption. It’s they who chose to defend their interests — hiding their wealth, most of it wrongfully acquired — instead of reforming the political regime to strengthen democracy. As the popular saying goes, ‘He who has nothing to hide, has nothing to fear.’ Well, here we are facing a lot of fear, dread, and terror that the citizens find out just how rich our politicians are, many of whom have worked solely in the public sector for their entire professional lives, accumulating wealth that is not supported by the salaries they have received.

Legal expert Miguel Carbonell commented on Twitter:

To see certain legislators arguing about the anti-corruption laws is really embarrassing. They’re shameless.

As pointed out in a news report, the “reasoning” against the publication of such information came no less than from the very same senator who leads the Anti-Corruption Commission:

El argumento del presidente de la Comisión Anticorrupción, Pablo Escudero, del PVEM fue que hacer pública toda esta información pondría en riesgo a los funcionarios ante posibles grupos delincuenciales o secuestradores.

Pablo Escudero, president of the Anti-Corruption Commission from the PVEM, argued that making all of this information public would put the civil servants at risk of possible criminal or kidnapping groups.

The PVEM or Green Ecologist Party of Mexico is a bit of a political leech, maintaining their privileges and permission to exist as a party thanks to their alliance with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

In his comment below, Mexico's president couldn’t hide how thrilled he was with the development

Many thanks to the @MexicanSenate for the approval of the laws in the fight against corruption.

Although the news of the laws being approved left the 3of3 Law proposal in the dust, the reactions of disgruntled citizens were quick to follow.

Members of the Mexican business community went out into the streets to protest, as noted on the Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity Twitter account:

3of3 Law. Business owners take a stance against corruption in Angel https://t.co/5e4VRk6HHS

Twitter user Armando Regil shared the following image with his followers while questioning if the legislators actually represent the citizens:

Tweet: Are we a democracy? When 59 senators decide to ignore more than 630,000 citizens, are we really being represented here?

Image: Yesterday, in an extraordinary session, the Senate voted no to the 3of3Law. More than 630,000 citizens supported the law, 77 senators decided not to listen (59 voted against, 1 abstained, 17 didn't even vote)

Fher Aguilar also expressed his annoyance:

The #3of3Law has gone to shit, once again congressmen protect their own interests rather than the interests of the people. They’re a bunch of thieves and backstabbers!

The moans about the Senate’s decision, however, weren’t unanimous. Legal expert and writer Gerardo Laveaga pointed out that having approved the publication of income and asset information for civil servants would have interfered with the right to privacy:

I’m afraid that passing the #3of3Law would have violated the 6th article of the Constitution, which takes into account the Protection of Personal Information.

On the other hand, Heli Lopez extended the following invitation to those who are worried about the invasion of privacy as far as the National Anti-Corruption System is concerned:

Anti-Corruption Laws are a nightmare for politicians. 3of3 Law.

Be accountable to the people and if you want privacy, then go to the business sector.

Incidentally, corruption is a serious problem in Mexico. Proof is its ranking in 95th place out of 167 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index created by the NGO Transparency International. In other words, Mexico is positioned worse than Peru and tied with the Philippines and Armenia, and very far from the countries that occupy the first three places: Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, respectively.

For many, an important battle has been lost in the war against shadiness and corruption in Mexico. According to the debates online, the political class openly reinforced their own arrogance and disdain for transparency, standing by their disregard for society by turning their back on the people’s request. The work will continue, nonetheless, because the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System is still to be settled.

by Danelle Hood at June 23, 2016 05:43 PM

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