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July 30 2013

Is India Biting Off More Than It Can Chew with its New Food Security Bill?

India's new food security bill, which will heavily subsidise basic food for about two-thirds of the population, is sparking questions throughout the country over the wisdom of such an expensive ordinance.

The National Food Security Bill was introduced in the lower house Lok Sabha of the Indian parliament on December 22, 2011. Since then, an elaborate debate on its merits and implications have ensued. However, despite the considerable time spent on these discussions, the parliament failed to arrive at a consensus. At this juncture, on July 5, 2013 the incumbent UPA government bypassed the legislature and put the National Food Security Ordinance 2013 into effect.

The National Food Security Ordinance is a measure intended to benefit the Indian citizens in general. It hopes to do so by legally entitling roughly 67 percent of the Indian population to five kilograms of food grains per month at a highly subsidized rate. The price of rice, wheat and coarse grains has been prescribed to be three Indian rupees (0.051 US dollars), two rupees (0.03 US dollars) and one rupee (0.02 US dollars) per kilogram respectively.

A customer in Mumbai, India inspects food grains before making his purchase

A customer in Mumbai, India inspects food grains before making his purchase. Image by Prasad Kholkute (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The ordinance is now in effect. Yet, a significant number of citizens as well as their representatives in parliament have their own doubts about it. Apart from the opposition decrying the government's step of taking the ordinance route to the Food Bill, various questions and concerns are being voiced about the ordinance's practicality, cost, and long term sustainability.

In an interview to Diva Arora of Infochange India, renowned political and social activist Aruna Roy, who has also been a member of the prime minister's National Advisory Council, clearly emphasized the need for having a national food security act. She explained the reasons for its necessity and also its viability:

“…being a welfare state, the Indian government has in the past, and should continue to play in the future, a definitive role in treating its citizens as legitimate entitlement holders, and not as passive beneficiaries. The government's vision for the poor should be seen in congruence with ensuring their access to provisions imperative for a dignified life, and not through the prism of doles.

This must be true especially in times of prosperity, so that safety nets can be ensured for all, for posterity. The rationale behind this legislation is to the right of a life with dignity and to remove hunger.

Apart from the humanitarian aspect, there are many benefits in investing in the nutrition of the population which may not always be able to be captured in quantitative terms. The economic climate is ripe for such programmes given our growing GDP, growth in public revenue, increase in procurement, growing (and wasted) food stocks and significant improvements in PDS in many states.”

In the same interview, she does, however, go on to point out a few flaws with the ordinance, pertaining to the process of identifying the beneficiaries of this scheme:

 “Indeed, the identification of the poor to be subsidised is genuinely problematic. The earlier system of automatic exclusion at least had a criterion of identification. In the current proposed differentiations of general, priority and excluded households, there is an extremely confusing and complicated criterion. It is impractical and impossible to implement. People will have no clarity on which category they belong to and what their respective entitlements are – this will lead to an opaque system and to the exclusion of many people.”

Given the perceived lacunae in the ordinance, especially in the area of implementation, trenchant criticism has been mounting on the union government from various quarters. A section of netizens too have voiced their scepticism.  For example, Tejinder Narang wrote on his blog:

“Food ministers/ Chief Ministers of Congress ruled states/ and other official spokesmen have declared that there is “no problem” in rolling out the scheme politically and financially. The rule of thumb is that when Governments say “no problem”, apprehend that there is a “serious problem”. Sure there is “no problem” in promise being made at the time of elections. But there could be “serious problems” for the successive Governments to perform at huge national cost to all.

A key reason for general food inaccessibility is the inability to store all the produce safely. In a Slideshare presentation titled ‘Rotting Of Food Grains', KD030303 made a compelling point about the abysmal state of food storage in the country. In the absence of better storage capability, the government's plan to increase food procurement as well as to curtail its export is likely to directly increase the incidence of such losses. The efforts of the government should be therefore be directed towards building storage capacity to match the levels of agricultural production in the country.

The underlying issue here is the need to evaluate the benefits of government subsidies in general. This sentiment is echoed in the following tweets as well:

Blogger Sonali Ranade (@sonaliranade) had the following comment regarding subsidies:

Well-known Indian blogger Nitin Pai (@acorn) also tweeted his views about subsidies in general and their economic impact:

Subsidies will dent any nation’s economy. As observed in the past, subsidies on fuel, fertilizers, and electricity have already cost the exchequer heavily. The record budget deficit of the country is doing no good to the spiraling cost of living. It remains to be seen how the government can afford such a large scale subsidy scheme. Perhaps it is time we remind ourselves of the saying – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Reposted bymofo mofo

July 29 2013

Can Pirates Save the Russian Internet?

Russian supporters of internet freedom have their work cut out for them if they want to move their cause from the virtual to the physical world — last Sunday's protests against the so-called “anti-piracy law” attracted only a few hundred people out of the thousands that have voiced their opposition online.

RuNet Echo has previously written on the increasing encroachment on internet freedoms in Russia, and on what some would call creeping censorship. Last month, this trend seems to have come to a head, with the Russian parliament passing a law that is essentially equivalent to USA's SOPA [GV]. The law, which is due to come into effect on August 1, 2013, will allow any website to be shut down simply with claims that it hosts or links to copyrighted material.

"Pirate" flags reigned at Moscow's Internet freedom rally. YouTube Screenshot

“Pirate” flags reigned at Moscow's Internet freedom rally. YouTube Screenshot

The Russian Internet industry [ru] responded with shut-downs [GV], threats of an internet wide strike on August 1, petitions, and a series of protests, which were set to take place on July 28. As the protest announcement read [ru]:

Как показывает практика, власти в России редко обращают внимание на бурление в Сети. Гораздо больше их волнуют реальные люди, выходящие на улицы.

As practice shows, the Russian government rarely notices the churning of the Web. They are much more concerned with real people who walk out on the streets.

While this is a dubious proposition (considering the massive “successes” of Russian street protests over the last year), street actions were planned several weeks in advance with the support of the Russian Pirate Party [ru], RosComFreedom [ru], and the Association of Internet Users [ru], and took place in regional cities like Kazan, Tomsk and Novosibirsk [ru] in addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, they failed to bring out the crowds. The Moscow protest/concert, for example, attracted only “300-500″ people [ru], said the Pirate Party's Peter Rassudov — which is only half of the protest's VKontakte page [ru] 1,105 members.

A man dressed in skulls and symbolizing the "Death" of the RuNet leads a rally in Moscow. YouTube screenshot.

A man dressed in skulls and symbolizing the “Death” of the RuNet leads a rally in Moscow. YouTube screenshot.

Unsurprisingly, the proponents of internet freedom have had better success in their online endeavors, specifically with the petition they've filed on the Russian Public Initiative [ru] website. The petition [ru], which seeks the repeal of the the law deemed unfair, has so far been signed by 54,000 people, and reads:

Мы считаем, что данный закон направлен не столько против распространения нелегального контента, сколько против развития Интернета в России, нацелен на его разрушение, а также ущемляет интересы национальной интернет-индустрии и права интернет-общественности.

We believe that this law is aimed not so much against distribution of illegal content, but against development of the Russian Internet, is aimed at its [the Internet's] destruction, and additionally, infringes on the interests of the national internet-industry and the rights of the internet-using public.

While the number of signatures in less than a month is quite a feat, it falls short of the 100,000 needed for the petition to be reviewed, and shows signs of flagging:

A graph showing total votes for the petition seeking to repeal the "antipiracy" law. Screenshot, July 29, 2013.

A graph showing total votes for the petition seeking to repeal the “anti-piracy” law. Screenshot, July 29, 2013.

Russian techies don't give up easily, figuring out all kinds of ways to get out the vote — like a banner that any participating website can put at the top of their page (designed and posted [ru] by an anonymous user to the tech website Habrahabr). Perhaps the coming August 1 “Internet Strike” (a shutdown of participating websites) will also jar more internet users into voting. However, even if the petition reaches 100,000 votes, unless these thousands of virtual supporters can be converted into physical bodies on the streets and lobbyists in Parliament, the Russian government isn't likely to care.

Brunei Bans Daytime Dining in Muslim Restaurants

The Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) has issued an order prohibiting non-Muslims to dine in a restaurant or fastfood outlet owned by Muslims in the daytime during the holy month of Ramadhan. The new regulation is meant to show respect to Muslims who are fasting during the day. Brunei is a Muslim-majority nation.

Non-Muslims are advised to take out their order and consume their food elsewhere. The ban applies to foreigners and tourists as well.

Many people were surprised with the directive considering that Ramadhan will be over soon. Some restaurant owners are not yet aware of the new regulation. KFC Brunei has issued this statement to advise customers about the adjustment in their operations in response to the MUIB directive:

With respect to the new directive from the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB), only Takeaway, Delivery and Drive Thru services will be available during the fasting period of the Ramadhan month. Our operating hours remain the same

Brunei restaurant. Photo from Flickr of Reeda. CC License

Brunei restaurant. Photo from Flickr of Reeda. CC License

Netizens reacted strongly. On Instagram, @maurina described the new ruling as silly:

This is the silliest directive ever! Somehow I don't think the world have to stop just because we're fasting. Fasting in Ramadhan is an awesome time between me and my beautiful God. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims eating in restaurants? Sorry MUIB! This is a #fail. Lets stay positive and be a more tolerant society!

@alingms shared the same sentiment:

@maurina omg! Too much eh! Even non muslims cant eat? They might as well force each and every non muslim to convert! Why cant they respect other religion as well kan?!!

@nr_han feared that Brunei could soon be the ‘land of endless restrictions’:

This is so stupid! Did they even think thoroughly of the implications before implementing this rule?? Brunei…Abode of peace. Yeah right. More like, Land of Endless Restrictions!

The ruling has ‘weakened the nation’, according to @jo8bean:

Agreed, #epicfail @maurina.. If I may be so bold to say that this directive has just ‘weakened a nation'. #tsk

@liza_mohd commented that it could make Brunei a ‘less tolerant community’:

Inconsiderate towards minorities & it also makes us look like a less tolerant community. Such an unprecedented and absurd move!

But @imanadzmara reminded netizens to keep calm since the ruling will not be implemented the whole year:

It's only for Ramadhan NOT the whole year round and it only affected muslim food operators. Yeah, keep calm. We are still blessed to live in a ‘free’ country, no income tax, free education, free medical and expensive treatments abroad. Why need to jump when the Government do this ‘small’ thing compared to the ‘big’ thing given to us. Take it or leave it

@qhhr has mixed feelings over the directive:

People, there are loopholes here. In light of what has happened, at least you save a lot of money. Although, the new implemented rule is ridiculous. It could have been done eons ago, we were better off it anyway.

@n_cud wrote that it is insulting to non-Muslims:

Its the fact that this was even thought of in the beginning that is kinda insulting to non muslims, loophole or not.. Where does it end? Closin down of all businesses during prayer times everyday? seems like we're headed that way

@kangta164 argued that it is an unnecessary regulation:

Personally, I think it's one of the “unnecessary” rule implemented. Fasting is about an individual commitment to resist temptation. To implement such rule that affects businesses is illogical. I personally hate the fact that it segregates “non Muslims” and “Muslims” because it encourages religionism. I do have Muslims friends and I respect the fact that they're fasting so realistically, I won't eat in front of them. But to make it a mandatory rule is pretty much ridiculous.

It seemed authorities became overzealous in performing their job, wrote @tiny_lou:

Isnt it about resisting temptation? So if the temptations removed. .no resistance required! Seemd over zealous..what next..cut off all water supplies?? What about tourists..expats..non muslims?

July 28 2013

INFOGRAPHIC: Singapore Waste Statistics

Image from Zero Waste Singapore

Image from Zero Waste Singapore

According to Singapore's National Environment Agency, every person in Singapore generated 1,370 kg of waste in 2012. About 60 percent of the waste were recycled and 40 percent were disposed in incinerators and landfills

July 26 2013

Finding Everything and Anything at Bolivia's 16 de Julio Fair

What are you looking to buy? If you need a new bed, vintage books, or a used car, then chances are you will find that and much more at the 16 de Julio (July 16th) Fair in the city of El Alto, Bolivia.

Every Thursday and Sunday, thousands flock to this bustling open-air market to find a much-needed object or to stumble upon an unexpected item to purchase at a reasonable price.

Starting at the early hour of 5 a.m., tens of thousands of vendors set up their stands waiting for customers to file by their goods. The saying goes that a buyer can find anything at the Fair, everything from a “pin to a tractor” [es].

Vendor setting up his booth at the July 16 fair. Photo by Carlos Sanchez, copyright Demotix.

Vendor setting up his stand at the July 16 Fair. Photo by Carlos Sanchez, copyright Demotix.

Some have stated that there are currently 500,000 vendors that are registered and eligible to set up shop [es], but at any one time, there may be 10,000 stands. Electronic goods, furniture, agricultural and construction tools are just some of the items on display at the Fair.

The Fair is an important part of the commercial side of El Alto, which attracts many residents from nearby La Paz for this informal marketplace.

Stretching for 100 city blocks, one of the Fair's primary attractions is the vehicle market. Used motorcycles, cars, and transport trucks are parked near and around Pacajes Plaza. The sale of these motorized vehicles led to the sale of related products such as replacement parts. There has even been the establishment of mobile legal offices, where lawyers can process and legally register your new purchase in no time.

The Fair has been the subject of a series of sociological studies, and Simón Yampara shares some of his findings on the Pukara online newspaper. He connects some of the phenomena seen within the Fair with Andean culture [es]:

El orden y desorden de la exposición de los productos, que en función de algún producto principal complementan los otros productos, por ejemplo la venta de automóviles, automáticamente ha abierto espacios para la venta de variedad de accesorios de auto-partes así como los bufetes-abogados de transacciones legales, pero también la serie de servicios complementarios como comidas, heladeros, refresqueros y hasta cervezas para la ch’alla de las transacciones de compra y venta. Eso tiene implicancias de lógicas: donde una cosa es el orden occidental y otra el orden andino que se guía más por complementaciones interactivas.

The order and disorder of the display of products, which in relation to a primary product, complements other products. For example, the sale of automobiles automatically opened spaces for the sale of a variety of accessories such as auto parts, as well as the offices of lawyers for legal transactions. There are other complementary services such as the sale of food, ice cream, drinks, even beer for the ch'alla (blessing) of the newly purchased items. This means logical implications: where one thing is in the Western order the other in the Andean order, which is guided more towards the interactive complementation.

The variety of items available for purchase also includes some that are not to everyone's liking. The ongoing controversy surrounding the availability of used clothing that arrives from abroad vs. new clothing made locally continues with supporters on both side of the issue. While the used clothing is generally cheaper and more accessible to families with limited incomes, the sale of new clothing creates jobs in El Alto and other parts of the country.

Other critics of the Fair cite the low control of products, such as natural medicines, that are sold without oversight and without expiration dates.

Animals are also a major seller including illegally obtained wildlife and domestic animals that may come from mills or bred under poor conditions. Facebook groups [es] have been created to bring together people against this practice.

The colorful sights and diversity of sounds is an attraction not only to potential buyers, but also foreign tourists who read about this attraction in their guide books [es]. Local blogger Ronald Vallejos Durán wrote about his experience arriving from nearby La Paz [es].

En el ambiente de fondo los sonidos son variadísimos. Cumbias nacionales, peruanas, todo al son de la moda actual; voces nasales que anuncian curas contra la diabetes, el cáncer, en base a antídotos milenarios y naturales.

En el sector autos pude constatarme que el precio de los vehículos están elevados; y otro dato curioso es que la industria china en automóviles se ha incrementado considerablemente.

Un poco más adentro me esperaban cuadras y cuadras de ropa americana a medio uso. Ropa que por cierto más de una vez fue prohibida su venta, bastará recordar que un par de años atrás hubo muchas movilizaciones y polémica en torno a éste tema.

The background ambiance was quite varied – Bolivian and Peruvian cumbias [type of music], all the latest hits; nasal voices that announce the cure for diabetes and cancer, made from ancient and natural remedies.

In the automobile sector, I found that the price of vehicles was high; and that the availability of Chinese cars were on the rise.

Advancing a little more inside the Fair, blocks and blocks of used American clothing were waiting for me. Clothing that was once prohibited from being sold reminded me that a couple of years ago there were a lot of protests and controversy around this product.

While the items for sale at the Fair are the draw, there are interesting characters whose work makes the day run smoothly. Blogger Mario Durán of the blog Palabras Libres arrived to the fair with “an open mind” following the saying “seek and you shall find.” He recounts two of the interactions with key characters of the fair [es], including Pedro the taxi driver and Juan the porter:

Juan es parte de la asociación de carritos de transporte, que llevan cosas hasta los puntos de parada de taxis, tiene uniforme único con bordado de la asociacion, sombrero de ala ancha y … tarifa única, por trasladar cosas te cobran 10 Bs. Mientras carga los muebles adquiridos y los transporta, empezamos a recorrer la feria, va pidiendo permiso, atropella a una persona, blasfema quedito con la trancadera que se arma cuando vehículos empiezan a ir en contraruta. En cierta esquina me dice: ¿a cual lado, joven?, donde los taxistas cobren mas barato – le respondo. Me ayuda a cargar las cosas en el taxi. Pago la tarifa.

Juan is part of the Association of Cart Transport, which carries items [from the market] to the taxi stands. He has a unique uniform with trim of the Association, a wide brimmed hat, and… a fixed fare. To transport items, they charge 10 Bs. (about US$1.45) While he carries the purchased furniture, we begin to cross the Fair, excusing himself asking for space, he runs over someone. When we reach an intersection, he asks, “where to, young man?” I answer by saying to where the taxis charge less. He helps me carry the items into the taxi. I pay the fare.

Whether you are looking for a pin or a tractor, surely someone has it for sale at the 16 de Julio Fair; you just need a little patience to find exactly what you are looking for.

You can see more photographs of the Fair on Cesar Angel Zaragoza's Flickr set.

July 25 2013

African Fabric Kimono Belt Supports Mothers in Earthquake Disaster Area

A group of Japanese mothers in Sendai city is producing special kimono belts with fairly-traded African fabrics.
Yumi Nakano, who organizes the fundraising [ja] by requesting a donation in exchange for the belts, hopes to encourage more people to enjoy the traditional Japanese kimono and help support the mothers of the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to rebuild their lives at the same time supporting Africans [ja] who hand-loom the fabric.

africa kimono

A group of mothers made Japanese Kimono belt using African fabrics. Image used with permission by Yumi Nakano

July 24 2013

Mumbai Restaurant Forced to Pull Political Food Bills

Irked by a statement criticising the government that was being printed on a restaurant's bills and handed to customers, youth workers of India's ruling party stormed a Mumbai restaurant and filed an official complaint with the police. The restaurant was temporarily shut down.

On 22 July, 2013 about 30 to 35 workers of the Indian Youth Congress swarmed Aditi, a South Indian restaurant located in Parel, within Mumbai city, angry over a footnote added to bills that read:

As per UPA government, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG scam) is a necessity and eating food in an AC restaurant is a luxury!

aa

Twitpic image of the restaurant bill uploaded by Tweeter user S. S. S. (@ekdum_veda)

The message referred to the introduction of service tax on eating at air-conditioned restaurants by the central government that went into effect in April 2013, irking both restaurateurs and customers, who are paying the extra cost.

Shetty explained this unique protest in an interview to the Mid-Day:

I have my opinion and India being an independent country, I have the right to express my views.

Because of the government including all AC eateries in its purview for paying service tax, I suffered losses and I had to shut down the AC section of my restaurant altogether.

A non-cognisable complaint was lodged with police against Srinivas Shetty, the owner of the eatery, for defamation (Section 501 of Indian Penal Code) by the Youth Congress members. A spokesperson of the Congress party's youth wing claimed that their protest of the restaurant was peaceful and it was not them but the police that shut down the restaurant, after their complaint.

The eatery has been reopened after the owner promised police that he will no longer circulate these bills. Being Cynical blog reacted to the decision:

Brilliant chronicles, I must say. We will loot the nation till the last penny and at the same time we won’t allow anyone to talk about our loot at all.

Blogger Maheep Singh questioned why Indians have to pay tax on entertainment, luxury or leisure:

Is it because we are a poor nation and the ones who can afford entertainment should pay a tax?

Meera Damji (@MeeMeera): @sa_lil They’re open and have got rid of the line on the receipt. Image via Twitpic

Blogger SM wrote that the message was an excellent idea to protest against the government. However, Vidyut at AamJanata didn't consider the Aditi Restaurant's footnote as free speech. The blogger explained:

* Official stationery of a business is different from your personal blog or Twitter feed. It expresses the view of the business. If the view is one that makes a factually incorrect statement – however deserved the anger underlying it may be – then it is defamation. [..]

* This logic of writing whatever you want on your own bill does not work when a customer who has already eaten food has no way of avoiding your bill. You have a political statement to make, make it upfront.

The news was trending on Twitter. Here are some examples:

Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39), president of Janata Party tweets:

Journalist, political analyst and founder of open-magazine Indian Exponent Ishaan Mohan Bagga (@IndianExponent) comments:

Blogger and entrepreneur Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) says:

Blogger Atanu Dey (@atanudey) praises Aditi restaurant:

Political Commentor, blogger & writer Ashish kedia (@kediashish) says:

Damodar Shenoy (@itsdamslife) criticises the government:

Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) sums it in a few words:

Vidyut concludes:

If Congress workers attacked restaurant and forced it to close, they were wrong. If they only protested and cops shut down the restaurant, then I think Congress was well within their rights with their protest. Protest is a fundamental right in India anyway, regardless of how we treat protesters.

July 23 2013

Japanese Railway to Sell Customers’ E-Ticket Data

Japan's largest rail company has announced that it will be partnering with Japanese multinational engineering and electronics conglomerate Hitachi to gather data from its e-ticketing system, strip it of identifying information such as names and addresses, and then sell it in bulk to third party companies.

East Japan Railway (JR East) will be using travel history information from its e-ticketing system, called Suica, according to technology news website Ars Technica. JR East counts about 42 million Suica users. The company plans to “sell the information in the form of monthly reports to retailers, eating and drinking establishments, and real estate agencies that operate near the train stations,” according to Japanese business news site Nikkei.

A June 28, 2013 Nikkei post reports that Hitachi “will profile commuter activity at each train station by parameters like gender, age, and times of use, analyzing such things as the customer-drawing power of each station and the potential for business in the area.”

The penguin is the mascot character for promoting Suica . Photo by flickr user shibuya246, taken on April 2010 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The penguin is the mascot character for promoting Suica. Photo by Flickr user shibuya246, taken in April 2010 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Takashi Yamaguchi, a JR East spokesman, told Computerworld, “There is no way to determine the identity of specific individuals from the data, so we feel there is no privacy issue.”

Selling E-ticket data stripped of private information is legally okay, but social media users voiced their concerns and skepticism:

@hikita suicaビッグデータ。たしかに個人情報保護法に直接的に触れる個人情報は入っていないが乗降履歴は継続的に収集すれば個人を特定しうるということで実質的な個人情報として扱うことになるのではなかったか?現時点では問題ないとはいえかなり疑義 http://t.co/3AUfmqDMHn

Big Data on Suica: it does not include “personal information” explicitly defined in the Private Information Protection Act. However, by repetitive collection of commute history, it may lead to identifying a person which could be practically personal information, or can it be? I have serious concern even if it is legal at this time.

The biggest problem here is that they started using the data without explanations and without prior acknowledgment by users. I wonder whether independent data can be seen or not, which could enable re-identification.

On social bookmarking site hatena, yoko-hirom commented in comparison with unique identities in real life.

yoko-hirom: 皆,顔も車のナンバーも隠さず交通機関や道路を利用している。しかし,個別に追跡・記録されたらどうか。Web だと閲覧履歴のトラッキング。それが販売される。不快感も嫌悪感も抱かない方がどうかしている。

Everybody uses public transportation and roads, without hiding one's face or license plates. What if it is tracked and recorded individually? When it comes to the Web, the subject is browsing history. And it is on sale. It's insane if you don't feel it discomfort or disgusting.

The use of private information needs to follow Private Information Protection Act, but there is no legal restrictions when the data is anonymized and does not include any identifiers. The Japanese government is planning to develop a legal framework for the use of personal data. The Cabinet approved “世界最先端IT国家創造宣言”, or temporally translated as ”a Declaration of Creating the World's Most Advanced IT Nation“ [ja] on June 14 2013 and it touches on the use of personal data to balance the use of personal information and privacy.

A recent keynote speech by the Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications at a ICT forum in Okinawa [ja] talked about the need to utilize privacy-enhancing technology and develop rules for the use of personal data. His slide [ja] wrote about how personal data should be used in the future, especially when the data is anonymized but leaves rooms for potential re-identification. The slide showed that personal data should only be used under a condition that it is properly anonymized, it is ensured that the data will not be re-identified, and third parties are banned by contract from re-identification.

While more users voiced concerns on the use of personal data, some didn't seem to mind.

KeiPipe was another Twitter user who felt the use of data did not matter to him:

I don't mind as long as things become more convenient. I bet they have no special interests towards me personally.

People using pre-paid E-ticket to pass the entrance of JR line. Photo by flickr user mikeleeorg ( CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

People using pre-paid e-ticket to pass through the JR entrance. Photo by flickr user mikeleeorg ( CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Atsushi Fukuda, a creative director of digital media content, shrugged, arguing that all kinds of information are out there anyway:

Oh well, I guess all kinds of information are destined to be analyzed.

JR ticket machine

Train tickets can be purchased through these machines. Passengers can choose to buy a single ticket or an e-ticket.

For Twitter user maipy1Q70, it is not so much about privacy as much as it is about the profits of using big data not being distributed to the masses who generate the data:

This is becoming a nasty example. The problem is, aside from privacy, that there is no clear evidence that Hitachi can exploit it exclusively and as they wish to. Also there is no re-distribution of profit to the masses or the users who are the originator of these data sets.

Another hatena user emphasized the lack of compensation for customers who are generating the data:

umi1334: 個人情報売り飛ばすんなら全区間運賃2,3割引とかしてくれたら許すわ、飛ばされた情報そのものに関してはどうでもええんだが、それに対して対価がつかないのには腹立つ

I will forgive them if they give us a discount, like 20-30 percent off of the fare to customers contributing data. I don't care much about my emitted information, but it makes me upset that I won't be compensated [for contributing data sets].

This post includes reblog of Dan Heinz's post Japanese Railway Selling E-Ticket Data, under his permission.  Takashi Ohta helped translation of quotes.

July 22 2013

PHOTO: Fishing in the Polluted Waters of Manila Bay

A fisherman gathers mussels on the waters of Manila Bay. Photo by Ezra Acayan, Copyright @Demotix (7/14/2013)

A fisherman gathers mussels on the waters of Manila Bay. Photo by Ezra Acayan, Copyright @Demotix (7/14/2013)

A fisherman at work on the polluted waters of Manila Bay against the backdrop of the Manila skyline. According to government statistics, fisherfolk comprise the poorest sector in the Philippines

July 19 2013

Residents Oppose Coal Project in Southern Philippine City

Davao City residents and environment groups are opposing the construction of a coal plant in their city. Davao is located in Mindanao, south of the Philippines. The coal plant is to be constructed by Aboitiz Power which got the approval of the city government despite local opposition.

Jean Lindo-Scandal, a medical doctor and environmentalist, enumerated some reasons why Davao green groups are against the plant:

Aboitiz Power has started the coal project even if without the carbon sink management plan.

The coal fired power plant will lock the Davaoeňos in dirty energy for more than 25 years. By then, the damage to the environment cannot be reversed.

Coal fired power plant will endanger the lives of the Philippine eagle in Toril the sea turtles. The coal is located close to the pawikan [sea turtle] sanctuary and eagle sanctuary.

If smoking by humans is forbidden in the public places of Davao, the more should the coal plant be forbidden from smoking.

Last June 29, Davao activists and residents who are opposed to the coal plant joined the ‘Global Day of Action to End the Age of Coal’ by holding a protest in the city’s freedom park.

'End Coal' rally in Davao. Image from Greenpeace

‘End Coal’ rally in Davao. Image from Greenpeace

Protesters pointed the irony of Davao implementing a strict anti-smoking ordinance yet it welcomes the entry of a coal plant in the city. Early this month, Davao was even recognized by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance as the first 100 percent smoke-free metropolitan in the Southeast Asian region:

…the city is recognized as the first metropolitan city to be smoke-free not only in the Philippines but the ASEAN region

Davao City is a city to emulate in many aspects, specially in their smoke-free efforts

Alyzza Junett M. Cabuenas wants progress for Davao but she also asserts the need for a safe and healthy environment:

I, as a legitimate citizen of Davao, am torn between economic benefit and global health, I assume that it’s better (to) live in a community simply and have a clean environment to prolong my life and enjoy it with the resources blessed upon me, than to live luxuriously but with a dangerous atmosphere. So, I wrote this article without prejudice, but I’m making my stand against the harmful coal-fired power plant.

Honestly, I wanted the city, the region, the whole Mindanao, the country; to be progressive. But I need the earth, my environment to be safe and harmless

Anna Abad interviewed some residents who will be displaced by the coal project:

Lolo [grandfather] breaks the silence and confides that one of the cemeteries in the area is gone, replaced by the construction of the coal-fired power plant, which has been cordoned off from the public.

The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness surge through me like a lightning bolt – how can this be allowed to happen?

It's depressing enough that the community currently residing there are going to be displaced, along with it, their social and economic ties to the land. But to strip them away of their culture and tradition, paying no respect to the sacredness of the burial ground is beyond belief.

Reposted bymofo mofo

July 17 2013

Billionaire Jack Ma Makes About-Face, Praises Chinese Government

Prominent Chinese Internet entrepreneur Ma Yun (馬雲), known as Jack Ma, has in the eyes of some shattered his independent image during a recent newspaper interview in which he applauded China for its online censorship and brutal, strong-arm tactics.

Billionaire Jack Ma, who controls two top online e-commerce platforms, Taobao and Alibaba, stressed in an interview with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong that “the Chinese government is terrific” and compared China with his business empire, saying that cruel decisions like the June 4 crackdown have to be made [zh] for the sake of stability. He also praised the highly advanced Internet censorship in China that watches over 600 million Internet users and three to four of the world's top 10 Internet giant corporations. English bullet points of the interview are available at the Morning Post's website.

Jack Ma Yun speaks at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China September 2008. Photo by Natalie Behring, World Economic Forum (CC: BY-NC-SA)

Jack Ma Yun speaks at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China September 2008. Photo by Natalie Behring, World Economic Forum (CC: BY-NC-SA)

Unlike the second generation rich, or Fuerdai in Chinese, Ma established his Internet business with the help of his friends in the U.S. and maintained an a reputation as an independent entrepreneur in China. Alibaba.com is listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange market in 2007.

Terrific or terrifying?

Many netizens were disappointed and wondering why Ma chose to destroy his image. In the comment section of Beijing News on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, many believed that Ma's change of attitude is related to the recent secret execution of Chinese businessman Zeng Chengjie who was dubbed “China's Madoff” and once called by China's state-run news as a “diligent, wise and conscientious man”.

“I am Wang Mo” (@是王默俺) was among one of the microbloggers who drew a line between Ma's change of attitude and Zeng's death:

右边,他从一开始就站队了,现在不过是赤裸裸了而已,曾成杰让他害怕了吧。

From the very beginning, he is lining up on the right side. Now he is just running naked. Zeng Chengjie made him scared.

“Bright moon on top of Yan's mountain” (@燕山明月) also believed that Ma had been terrified by Zeng's death:

淘宝是伟大的事业,阿里巴巴是伟大的公司,马云是伟大的商人。但是,马云似乎展现了深深的恐惧,站在万仞悬崖边上呼啸的山风中,远处传来曾成杰凄厉的哀嚎,心下不由一紧,回过头,老大哥正微笑凝视着他

Taobao is a great business and Alibaba a great company. Ma Yun is a great entrepreneur. But fear seems to have occupied Ma's heart. Standing at the cliff, the scream of Zeng Chengjie can be heard in the wind. His heart tangled and he looked back behind him, the big brother is smiling in his gaze at him.

Many also believed that Ma has made a deal with the devil, coming to some agreement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) so that they exercise direct control over his businesses to keep them expanding:

鹿魜:2013年度优秀企业家!阿里巴巴啃腚还是优秀D支部!

“Lu Ren”: The most excellent entrepreneur in 2013! Alibaba will definitely becomes the most excellent CCP's branch.

吴刚梁:全是歪理邪说。百度“很成功”,谷歌要“反省”,反省什么?向官员行贿?像你一样搞政治投机、迎合权贵?为何谷歌在全世界都能成功,唯独在中国弄不下去?而百度就只能在中国逞能?这是一个“逆向淘汰”的市场,13亿人当然能够支撑起几家大的互联网公司,但让谁出头,决定权在政府。

Wu Gangliang: Ma's interview is full of twisted reason. Baidu is “very successful” while Google has to “reflect”. What exactly does it have to reflect upon? That it hasn't paid bribe to the officials? That it hasn't invested in politics and pleased the ruling elite? How come Google is successful worldwide and cannot survive in China? While Baidu can only have its market in China? This is a reversed market. Of course with a 1.3 billion population, the market can support a few Internet giants, but who become successful is decided by the government only.

amanart:你只是一个在“中国特色”里混得不错的网站而已,如你的网站放到欧洲去,立马就阳痿了,你信不…前些天看到有关你的言论,很是失望,今天证实了,人最可怕的是在恶的淫威下变节,变得事理不明…

@amanart: You are just a website running smoothly in a space full of “Chinese character”. If your website moved to Europe, you would be crippled… I am so disappointed with what you have said. Today has proven that the most terrible thing to happen to a person is the change of character and principle under threat.

杀破菊:……不怀疑马云智商,只能说明他说这话有目的,学校的小卖部生意好,是因为学生不准出校,只能在那个小卖部买

@”Chrysanthemum ruined”: … I won't doubt Ma Yun's I.Q. Clearly he said that with objective. The reason why the school canteen has so much business is because the pupils are all locked up and they are forced to eat there.

Outside the Great Firewall, about 300 mainland Chinese political liberals and overseas dissidents have co-signed a statement condemning Jack Ma's talk about the “cruel” and “rightful” decision of the June 4 Crackdown in 1989 and demanding Ma make a public apology. Below is a political drawing by Twitter user @badiucao, in which Ma's surname in Chinese “馬” is transformed into a Tank:

The chinese character "Ma" is transformed into a tank in @badiucao's political drawing.

The Chinese character “Ma” is transformed into a tank in @badiucao's political drawing.

July 16 2013

São Tomé Pulls ‘Rotten Rice’ After Protests

Protest over reports [pt] of the circulation of rice unfit for human consumption in São Tomé have led to the withdrawal of the food from the market by order of the government at the beginning of July.

The rice was part of a 900-ton order worth about two million US dollars imported from Cameroon using public money. The deal was a direct agreement [pt] between the importing company D.S. Neves Limitada, owned by deputy and Secretary General of the São Tomé Democratic Convergence Party Delfim Neves, and Santoméan Prime Minister Gabriel Costa.

Rice, which is one of the most basic and most-consumed foodstuffs in São Tomé, is usually given to the country as a donation from Japan through a cooperation agreement [pt] between the two countries. Approaching an expected rice shortage [pt] until an expected 3,000-ton shipment arrived in June, it is likely the rice from Cameroon was an urgent purchase to keep the market supplied in the meantime.

But the rice displayed a visible infestation of “mould, remains of dead larva and other insects”, according to a Preliminary Report [pt] into the quality of the rice from the Centre of Agronomic and Technological Research (CIAT) on 6 June 2013. The report circulated widely on social media, reinforcing discontent among the people of São Tomé, who had already reported instances of rotten rice online since the end of May 2013.

In the face of the ensuing scandal, the government decided [pt] at a council of ministers on June 23 that the rice should be temporarily withdrawn until conclusive results of tests requested from abroad arrive in the country, as the results appearing in the government agency Centre of Agronomic and Technological Research's report were deemed to be inconclusive. But the rice continued to be sold, leading the government via the Ministry for Commerce, Industry and Tourism to order [pt] it collected from the market and banned from sale.

Sacks of rice from Cameroon. Photo by Carsten ten Brink on Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sacks of rice from Cameroon. Photo by Carsten ten Brink on Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We don't want rotten rice

The matter has been widely discussed [pt] by the country's Internet users, especially on the group “São Tomé e Príncipe ★ Téla Non ★“ [pt] on Facebook, which has the greatest audience and influence in the country. A photo of the rice shared by Arlindo Santos on the group gave rise to numerous comments, such as the following by Nayr Santos who states [pt]:

É triste mas é verdade! Hoje tive a oportunidade de deparar com esta “qualidade” de arroz que esta a venda na nossa praça. Poderia não acreditar nesta foto, mas vi, infelizmente, de perto o arroz para o “povo” consumir… Digo o “povo” pra ser de uma forma super limitada, porque os que mandam chegar esse arroz cá na ilha pra ser consumido, de CERTEZA que não fará [sic] o uso do mesmo, estes e outros todos que têm as costas largam [sic]!

It's sad but true! Today I stumbled upon this “quality” rice which is on sale in our market. You might not believe the photo, but unfortunately, I saw this rice for the “people” to consume with my own eyes… I say the “people”, because those who ordered this rice to be sent to the island for consumption, are CERTAINLY not those who will be eating it, these people and all the others who have power!

Photo by Tito Cheque Djalma on Facebook (used with permission)

Photo by Tito Cheque Djalma on Facebook (used with permission)

Lucas Lima, a lawyer from São Tomé currently living in Portugal, commented [pt] after reading the Centre of Agronomic and Technological Research's report:

Em conversa com uma Mestranda em engenharia alimentar, coloquei-lhe a seguinte questão:
Com base neste relatório, o arroz objecto da análise pode ser consumido pela população?
Ela simplesmente respondeu-me que nem para animais se deve dar um arroz com essa qualidade. E disse mais, só não houve intoxicação alimentar porque o arroz é um produto seco ou seja, tem baixa quantidade de água.

Por ultimo disse-me que este produto a nível de nutriente, já não tem, come-se para “encher a barriga” mas não alimenta.

In a conversation with a Master's student in alimentary engineering, I asked her the following question:
On the basis of this report, can the rice which has been tested be consumed by the population?
She simply replied that rice of this quality should not even be fed to animals. And she added, the only reason why nobody got food poisoning was because rice is a dry product, that is, it has a low water content.

And to finish, she told me that this product no longer contains any nutrients, it is eaten to “fill the stomach” but it doesn't provide nourishment.

The company responsible for importing the rice refuted [pt] the accusations in a press release:

Quanto a qualidade do produto ora importado, gostaríamos de salientar que para além de visibilidade ocular de qualquer produto, faz-se fé nos Certificados de Qualidade e de Fitossanitário emitidos pelas entidades credíveis e vocacionadas para o efeito a nível internacional…

As for the quality of the imported product, we would like to stress that besides the ocular visibility of any product, trust can be placed in the Quality and Phytosanitary Certificates granted by credible organisations entrusted with this task at an international level…

The act of indignation went beyond Facebook comments, with a public protest held on June 26 under the slogan “We don't want rotten rice”.

The protest was recorded by Roberto Carlos and shared on YouTube [pt]:

A letter sent from Delfim Neves to the Cameroonian authorities at the beginning of May, and revealed by protest group São Tomé e Princípe Indignados [pt] on July 1 fueled the people's opposition and subsequent protests. In the document, Neves, with the intention of obtaining a tax exemption, referred to events which do not correspond to the true situation of the country. “Starvation crisis”, “starving population”, are some of the terms used in order to obtain the tolerance of the Cameroonian authorities.

Photo of the protest "We don't want rotten rice" (26/06/2013), shared by Tito Cheque on Facebook (used with permission)

Photo of the protest “We don't want rotten rice” (26/06/2013), shared by Tito Cheque on Facebook (used with permission)

Paulo Gomes commented [pt]:

Usar mesmo que indevidamente, o nome de um país (POVO) de forma fraudulenta em beneficio próprio pondo em causa futuras ajudas que os mesmos possam vir a necessitar já é de si só um ato de falta de caráter mas que ate se entende quando a ganancia assim dita. O que não se entende é quando se brinca com a saúde publica pondo em risco uma população por imperativos econômicos… acorda povo.

To use, even ineffectually, the name of a country (PEOPLE) in a fraudulent manner for one's own profit and potentially jeopardising future assistance that the people may need is an act displaying a lack of moral character but one which could be understood in terms of greed. What is beyond comprehension is the jeopardising of public health and putting the population at risk for economic gain… Wake up, people.

July 15 2013

Data Visualization: Electric Japan

Electrical Japan [ja], a website by researcher Asanobu Kitamoto [ja] lets you explore electric power plants and energy consumption in Japan through data-visualization.

screenshot of power plant database compiled by researchers at Electrical Japan

Screenshot of power plant database compiled by researchers at Electrical Japan

The color of the dots represents the type of power plant, for example fossil-fuel plants are red and hydroelectric plants are blue. The size of the dot represents the amount of power generated. Users can also explore real-time energy consumption [ja] on a regional basis through this map.

Riau, Indonesia: ‘Ground Zero’ of Southeast Asia Haze

The deadly haze which swept Singapore and some parts of Malaysia this year was caused by the forest fires in Riau, located west of Indonesia. Naturally, it attracted significant mainstream media attention but there was scant reporting on the situation of Riau citizens who have tremendously suffered and are still suffering from the impact of both the haze and forest fires.

Zul Othman of The New Paper praised Riau firefighters for their heroic efforts to stop the spread of the forest fire:

Politicians can talk and pontificate all they want but, on ground zero in Indonesia’s Riau province, it is the brave and hardy souls who are bearing the brunt of fires that never seem to die.

They are on the front line of the hot spots. And it is a painful, impossible task. Not least of their problems: How to fight fires with no water? How to go on fighting when your lungs are on fire?

The flames were doused, but never completely tamed. Huge patches of scorched peatland were still smouldering, emitting heat and lots of smoke.

Life Story of a Driller visited the site of the ‘smog attack’:

Last night, I stood on the one of grass fire frontier in Bengkalis, Riau (20/06/2013). People called this Smog Attack. Smog means “Smoke+Fog”. In Singapore, it’s just called haze, because it’s not thick enough.

The Center for International Rorestry Research explains why the haze has stayed for so long in the region:

The haze lingers because the fires do too. Fires are in peat around 3–4 m underground. Firefighters have to stick a hose into the peat to douse the fire

Map of Indonesia forest fires from The Center for International Rorestry Research

Map of Indonesia forest fires from The Center for International Rorestry Research

An interactive map was also developed to accurately monitor the spread of haze and forest fires in the country. David Gaveau and Mohammad Agus Salim studied the causes of the haze:

Many of the June 2013 fires are part of the processes of plantation establishment and management. The very short period over which fire incidents peaked, the high proportion of fires occurring on peatlands, typical patterns of plantation management in fire areas….support this hypothesis.

Weather conditions (including wind patterns) exacerbated the haze problem in June 2013 compared with previous fire incidents.

Fidelis E. Satriastanti called the haze affecting Indonesia’s neighbors as ‘transferred pollution’:

…measures such as logging moratorium in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been taken by Indonesia to fight forest fires. But it appears as if these measures have been insufficient and have achieved limited success.

The writer also observed that authorities have been arresting small farmers and not plantation owners:

…they were only arresting small crooks but left out bigger companies who were resorting to the cheapest way of clearing land for palm oil plantations: burning down forests.

I find it quite hard to believe that the farmers could have caused this much damage. First, they rarely own the lands. Second, even if they do own lands, it’s mostly limited to two hectares.

If the president can deliver an apology to the neighboring countries, then he can certainly apologize to his own people for failing to protect this country’s future generations.

A burning forest in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by Virna Puspa Setyorini, Copyright @Demotix (6/20/2013)

A burning forest in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by Virna Puspa Setyorini, Copyright @Demotix (6/20/2013)

Unspun is quite disappointed with the slow action of Indonesian authorities to decisively address the problem:

In this age of satellite imagery what further investigation is needed to zoom in on the plantations with forest fires and punish them? What fumes is the Forestry Ministry and other Indonesian officials inhaling?

@iamdreamcatcher posted a picture of a burning forest in Riau and blamed irresponsible companies:

some of companies also have concession lands in the two islands; Sumatra and Kalimantan. it happens years ago, so I guess not just Singapore or Malaysia who's tired with the situation, we also have the same feeling for these irresponsible people …

July 14 2013

Trinidad & Tobago's Media Association “Pulls a 180″ in Press Freedom Debacle

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago has retracted its original statement about political interference having a part to play in the alleged reassignment of key reporters in the Guardian's newsroom, leaving some bloggers wondering if the whole affair was a storm in a teacup…or if the public is not being told the whole story.

The organisation's latest release, dated yesterday morning, said:

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) seeks to correct previous erroneous information…the impasse between the publishers of the Trinidad and Sunday Guardian newspapers and senior journalists has been reportedly resolved following discussions between the two parties. Apart from the resignation of Public Affairs Editor Dr Sheila Rampersad, the newsroom is now functioning as before with Judy Raymond as Editor in Chief. Investigative reporters Anika Gumbs and Denyse Renne, who were initially reported as having resigned, are on the job. Managing Director Gabriel Faria and Sector Head David Inglefield have not resigned as previously reported.

President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) Suzanne Sheppard, who is the Business News Editor at the Trinidad Guardian, described the events of the last 24 hours which led to speculation of political pressure on journalists at the daily newspaper as case of a ‘massive miscommunication’ between the publishers and journalists.

Sheppard said she is convinced, following discussions with senior executives, that the events of the past few days when Judy Raymond was asked to go temporarily ‘off-line’ to review editorial standards in the newsroom had ‘nothing to do with political intervention'.

Sheppard said freedom of press issues were raised only due to an unfortunate combination of events that will be revealed in a press conference on Monday.

The post on MATT's Facebook page garnered only two “likes” but attracted some unfavourable commentary. One reader, Rhoda Bharath, who blogs at The Eternal Pantomime, said:

I think the public is owed an apology…and at least two resignations…because this body was used to promote the story. The public didn't dream this up…YOU, MATT, are GUILTY of irresponsible information dissemination. SHAME ON YOU!

On her own Facebook wall (the status updates are reproduced here with her permission), Bharath shared the link to the new MATT statement and quipped:

So apparently MATT…who happens to be headed by Suzanne Sheppard and Judy Raymond, got it wrong…About Face and Cover Up now in full effect…it means people who draw a salary for the purpose of responsibly and reliably informing the public, doing so under false pretences (sic). And we have to take it, I guess. No proper explanation. No apologies.

Another Facebook user, Valerie James, simply wrote:

COVER UP!!

The organisation attempted to respond to the criticism by replying:

Unfortunately two of our sources were wrong about the resignation. Part of responsible journalism is about issuing apologies when due. There will be a press conference on Monday which should answer questions. I hope all media workers come to the next Matt meeting.

Dex Perado immediately questioned MATT's “sources”:

You used sources for your posts? Who were the sources? Tntfinder? Because what I saw was MATT piggybacking on a story that tntfinder ran–a story that itself relied on hearsay.

A big part of crisis communications is waiting–waiting to ascertain the facts so as to devise a coordinated response. Did you do that? No, what you did was fire off a series of boilerplate bs ‘press releases’ that were largely emotional in tone.

As the MATT, you have a responsibility to defend and uphold the highest ideals of the profession. Those ideals are rooted in fact-based reporting. Did you have all the facts before you issued a response? No. You should be setting the standard. Instead, you are doing things that are detrimental to the profession you represent.

Ann Mc Carthy added:

Faria has been on CNC3 7pm news talking about the situation trying to say ‘everything is OK etc.’ but in my view somewhere over the chirpy everything is alright rainbow are some dark clouds that nobody wants to talk about because they are trying to do damage control. They can jump high and jump low, press has previously been a target under PPG [People's Partnership Government] and proof of it was on TV from different ministers plus preaction protocol letters to a journalist.

Wired 868′s Lasana Liburd also had some stinging criticism for the media association:

Faced with a crisis of journalistic integrity and political pressure, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) did what it does best: fired out an eloquent press release, curled into the foetal position, counted to a thousand and then went back to work.

To recap the Guardian drama-that-wasn’t but kind-of-was: On Wednesday afternoon, MATT president and Guardian editor Suzanne Shepherd posted on Facebook that ‘the most vile attack imaginable on freedom of the press (is) now in progress and I am in the midst of it.’

A few hours later, MATT reiterated that it is ‘monitoring with serious concern developments over the last 24 hours at the Trinidad Guardian newsroom that appears to be a major threat to press freedom.’ And MATT stood ‘in solidarity with MATT president Suzanne Sheppard and MATT vice president, Judy Raymond, both of whom are part of the Guardian’s key editorial team and are reported to be personally dealing with fallout from this political interference on the newsroom.’

While MATT was ‘monitoring’ and ‘viewing with alarm', Guardian public affairs editor Dr Sheila Rampersad and investigative journalists Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Denyse Renne sprung to action. They declared their positions untenable due to the level of political interference exerted on their boss and quit.

MATT made it clear that it stood ‘in solidarity with our colleagues in the media and the executives who have supported them.’ Only MATT was still standing in the Guardian newsroom while its ace reporters were on the streets feeling a tad confused by their silence.

Gabriel Faria, it turned out, had not quit at all. Guardian was in damage limitation mode and, as Raymond herself suggested, cautious optimism had replaced concerned monitoring.

The post continued:

Raymond never said what Guardian offered to her and Shepherd by way of compromise. They did not clear up the inconsistencies between their statements of political interference and the rebuttals from Faria and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

On Saturday, a MATT release admitted to publishing ‘erroneous information’ but said that was in reference to Faria’s resignation rather than the charge of editorial pressure from board level. The irony was especially juicy since Faria had accused Raymond’s staff of being lax in corroborating information before publishing.

Renne and Gumbs-Sandiford were said to be back on the job too and the whole was described as ‘a massive miscommunication between the publishers and journalists.’

So, the story had a happy ending after all.

Unless you happened to be Rampersad who has now discovered that MATT’s support is not worth the paper that its emailed releases are not printed on.

Critical blog posts just kept on coming. Plain Talk suggested that:

If the Media Association of T&T wants to have any real relevance post ‘Guardian-Drama’ they are going to have to ask that, at the very least, both the president and the vice president do the right thing and step down. While it may not undo the damage already done, it could facilitate beginning the process of frank and open discussions as to what exactly transpired.

What the Guardian does from here is Guardian business and they are welcome to it, but it is my belief that they are going to lose a lot of ground over the naked perversion and the still unanswered questions as to what exactly took place last Wednesday.

The Eternal Pantomime added:

Trinbagonians pretty pissed off with the Guardian newspaper…they feel they have been taken for a ride…and no amount of soft soaping from the Editor in Chief, or even from her Business News Editor, is going to make the reading public feel good anytime soon. No one is going to forget your behaviour this week, or what it means for our confidence in media and press freedom.

In a follow-up post uploaded yesterday, Bharath referred to “the MATT who cried wolf” and called the whole debacle “a hoax”:

We’re being told today…that ALLLLLL those press releases [MATT] sent out earlier in the week to keep us abreast of the situation in the Guardian newsroom…well they were mistaken.

So MATT, once again, is a tool, being absolutely abused by its executive. Nothing to see here folks…move along.

Blogger Attillah Springer, who is also a columnist at the Guardian, also posted her assessment of the situation yesterday:

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly. I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that…the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.

People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced. Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.

She proceeded to give examples of such occasions, and continued:

The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government. A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither. And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.

But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.

And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?

She then broke the whole controversy down to one key issue:

The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?

The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.

Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines. I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under siege.

A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.

I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.

No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

Yet, compromise seems to be what has happened. Georgia Popplewell, in a public Facebook status update, tried to consider the situation from another perspective:

I do understand why walking appears to many who have commented on the situation be the only honourable response, and I'm certainly not condemning those who have chosen to resign front he paper: under the circumstances I might well have done the same. I'm deeply concerned about corporate greed, censorship and government interference in the media and I'll be boycotting the Guardian and CNC3 like the rest of you.

Still, we rarely hear—or listen to—the story of those who DON'T walk. This is not a defence of Judy Raymond (who also happens to be a friend) but a—perhaps naive—wish for a dispassionate examination of the situation. I'd love to see some attention given to that other option: what it's like to remain in the belly of the beast and “give it one last try”, as Judy is quoted as saying in this morning's Express article (http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/BETRAYAL-215173831.html), even in a place as allegedly odious as ANSA McAL. And not just by people who support or like Judy, but by people who support good journalism and rational discussion. If getting rid of troublemakers is what, we assume, ANSA McAL wants, might staying, even with a reduced portfolio, be a courageous position? Can we imagine what it could be like to fight from the inside? Are corporate behemoths unbeatable by definition?

As Singing Francine sang, ‘Chile does run away/Dog does run away/Cat does run away/When man treatin’ dem bad.’ But what about those who stay? Where's their calypso? Maybe we'll end up booing it off the stage, but I still want to hear it. ‪#‎Trinidad

How Closing Account of Money Transfer Organisations Threatens Peace in Somalia

Laure Hammond explains how a recent decision by Barclays Bank to close the accounts of 250 money transfer organisations working around the world will have a particularly severe effect on Somalia’s efforts to emerge from two decades of conflict.

July 13 2013

Garment Factory Map in Cambodia

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has launched a map of garment factories in Cambodia. The map provides details of each factory including location, nationality of the owner, and number of employees. There are at least 558 garment factories in Cambodia which produce and supply garments to major international brands such as Adidas, Calvin Klein, Clarks, H&M, Levi’s, Macy’s, Nike, Old Navy, Puma, Reebok, The Gap, WalMart, and others. The map project aims to provide greater transparency regarding the ownership and supply chains of garment factories in light of rising protests about working conditions in these factories.

How Europe's Solution for Economic Crisis is Actually the Problem

Europe's current crisis is more than economic. Between the German government advocating a dangerous austerity policy and European authorities lacking any other suggestions, it is clear that the 2008 financial crisis is no longer solely responsible for the downward spiral of Europe.

The GDP for countries in Europe has fallen by a considerable amount: 5.3 percent for Greece, 3.9 percent for Portugal, 4.1 percent for Cyprus, 2.3 percent for Italy, and two percent for Spain. This is without even mentioning the recession into which France is entering. In the first quarter of this year, the European Union economy contracted by 0.7 percent, or one percent when only taking into consideration the eurozone.

If it was only the 2008 economic crisis that was responsible for all this, Europe would not be one of the only one to suffer so much. For example, the United States, the birthplace of this crisis, registered a 1.9 percent increase in their economy in 2013 [fr] while their unemployment rate was at its lowest in four years.

Europe, which for a long time has aimed to maintain growth that compares favorably with  United States, now finds itself completely lost among incoherent policies and disputes between countries [fr].

One of the main reasons for this current instability in Europe is the evident failure of the European policy authorities when their proposals seem more than enigmatic. Restricting interchange fees as proposed by Michel Barnier, the European Union Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, is a perfect example of is a perfect example of  the Commission taking measures that will not have any concrete impact.

Capping interchange fees, bank charges paid by retailers when they make a card payment, would not only increase personal bank charges [fr], as the banks would want to recuperate the money lost by this cap, but the retailers profit margin will also increase, as they rarely lower their prices just because their costs have decreased.

The other significant issue which has notably accelerated the decline of Europe is the restricted austerity policy which the majority of EU countries have undertaken. It would be more logical for Europe to take inspiration from the countries that have pulled through, i.e. the United States, in order to stimulate the market rather than only focusing on reducing the deficit.

Le taux de chômage des jeunes en Europe de 2005-13 via Les crises, domaine public

Youth unemployment rate in Europe between 2005-2013 via Les Crises – public domain

The most frustrating aspect about this issue is that the majority of the European leaders agree on this point, but no one dares to confront the life-long defenders of austerity, also know as « Sparkurs » [de] in Germany and its strict chancellor, Angela Merkel [fr]. But there are also critics of austerity on the German side. Last week, Gilles Moëc, head economist at Deutsche Bank, admitted to the news outlet Agence France-Presse that “there were some errors” [fr] in the selected strategy.

However, it's not as if the Merkel method was fully tried and tested, in fact, it was far from it. Portugal, for example, had never been in such a terrible state until it was subjected to the European austerity policy. In two years, its unemployment rate increased by 5.3 percent, its budget deficit by 1.1 percent. As for its public debt, it's now 123 percent higher than its GDP.

Julio Salazar Moreno, Secretary-General of Spanish worker's trade union USO, believes that the countries within the European Union need to stop with the austerity policy [pt], according to online newspaper Público:

Os países da União Europeia (UE) têm de parar “de uma vez por todas” com a aplicação de medidas recessivas, porque os cidadãos, alerta, estão a viver no limite dos sacrifícios

The countries within the European Union (EU) must refrain from enforcing austerity policies “once and for all” because the alert citizens are living at the very limits of their possible sacrifices.

The sledgehammer approach is just as inefficient for Greece, claims Gregor Gyzi, a president from a left-wing parliamentary group in Germany Bundestag by addressing the Greek readers [el] of news247:

οι επιβληθείσες, κυρίως από την γερμανική κυβέρνηση, περικοπές σε μισθούς και συντάξεις, οι απολύσεις και οι ιδιωτικοποιήσεις, όχι μόνο ώθησαν την Ελλάδα σε βαθιά ύφεση και κοινωνικά προβλήματα, αλλά κατέστησαν και αδύνατη την επιστροφή των δανείων στο εγγύς μέλλον

Imposed primarily by the German government, salary and retirement cuts, redundancies and privatisations, are not only going to push Greece into a major recession and cause social problems, but its also going to make loan repayments equally impossible.

Emigration figures for Europe are also far from surprising. In two years, 2.5 percent of the Portuguese population left the country. Who would have said ten years ago that today many Europeans would leave the continent to work in countries like Angola or Brazil?

Facing this alarming development, it is even more depressing to hear the responses of others, like that of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, also the former minister of the Eurogroup, who recently gave his thoughts on the European crisis [fr] and concluded that what Europe needs is some “TLC”: a statement which speaks for itself.

July 12 2013

Caring For The Migrant Workers in Maldives

Amira at Mindblur comments:

The population of the Maldives is a little over 300,000 people and we employee over 100,000 expatriate workers mainly in menial jobs in the construction industry, as housemaids, cleaners, helpers in various places, etc. This high proportion of the population would mean the Government should put a lot more importance on regulating the workforce and their welfare.

New Sugar Cane Farming Bill in Brazil Threatens Amazon

Brazil has opened the door to the cultivation of sugar cane for the first time in areas of the Amazon forest and surrounding wetlands and savanna, causing concern among environmentalists.

Federal Bill number 626/2011 [pt], approved by the Brazilian Federal Senate on May 15, 2013, allows sugar cane farming in an area called Amazônia Legal, which comprises the geographical regions of the Amazon forest, the tropical savanna Cerrado, and the swamp land Pantanal.

Despite the bill being limited to areas already deforested and 20 percent of rural properties [pt], the legislation has experts and activists fearful that sugar cane's effect on the wooded areas will be devastating.

Boundaries of Amazonia Legal. Map by InfoAmazonia.org

Boundaries of Amazonia Legal. Map by InfoAmazonia.org

Members of NGO WWF-Brasil [pt] assert that this will bring no economic or environmental benefits to the region. Experts estimate that a monoculture of sugar cane [pt] will disrupt the ecosystem's biodiversity, will harm the survival of the indigenous and traditional populations, and will extend farming into other areas of the Amazon forest.

Geographer João Humberto Camelini from the Brazilian State University at Campinas analyzed the case in an interview on the website Instituto Humanitas Unisinos [pt]:

(…) esta aprovação é um fato lamentável que demonstra o comprometimento com agentes econômicos, sustentado por um discurso totalmente equivocado. É possível alcançar o desenvolvimento de uma região por meio de um planejamento integrado que envolva, entre outros fatores, a instalação de usinas de açúcar e etanol. Porém, a ideia que se propaga erroneamente é que a mera presença de uma usina conduz ao desenvolvimento.

Amazonn, Urubu River. Photo by André Deak on Flickr (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

Amazon, Urubu River. Photo by André Deak on Flickr (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

Quando uma cultura regulamentada como a cana-de-açúcar recebe autorização formal e incentivos para ocupação, isso implica o uso exclusivo de grandes porções de terras no entorno das usinas, dentro de um raio aproximado de 40 a 50 quilômetros, o que leva à rápida e agressiva substituição das atividades existentes, deslocando-as para áreas inalteradas. Isso gera grandes pressões por desmatamentos clandestinos e de difícil fiscalização

(…) this approval is a lamentable fact which demonstrates the compromise with economic agents, sustained by a discourse that is totally wrong. It is possible to achieve the development of a region by means of an integrated plan which involves, among other factors, the installation of sugar and ethanol plants. However, the idea that is erroneously propagated is that the mere presence of a plant leads to development.
When a regulated culture like sugarcane receives formal authorization and incentives for occupation, this implies the exclusive use of large portions of land around the plants, within a radius of approximately 40 or 50 kilometers, which leads to a rapid and aggressive substitution of the existing activities, removing them to unaltered areas. This creates a great deal of pressure for deforestation which is both clandestine and difficult to inspect.

Bill 626/2011 was approved in the Senate in terminative character, which means that only the Environmental Commission voted on the bill. There was no plenary vote in the Senate and the bill proceeded directly to the legislative chamber and the presidency.

Luiz Bento from Science blogs [pt] highlighted why the report was approved in this vertical manner:

Somente os senadores Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB-DF) e Ana Rita (PT-ES) votaram contra. Você está espantado com isso? Eu não. Sabe quem é o presidente da comissão de Meio Ambiente do senado? O digníssimo senador Blairo Maggi, um dos líderes da bancada ruralista e um dos maiores produtores de soja do Brasil. E você achando que o nosso maior problema era o Feliciano…

Only the Senators Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB-DF) and Ana Rita (PT-ES) voted against. Are you surprised by this? I’m not. Do you know who is the the president of the Environmental Commission? The honorable Senator Blairo Maggi, one of the leaders of the ruralist bench and one of the largest producers of soy in Brazil. And you were thinking our biggest problem was Feliciano…. [the anti-gay preacher elected Brazil's Human Rights Committee Head]
Sugarcane. Photo by Elza Fiuza, Agência Brasil, shared on Portal Ecodebate

Sugarcane. Photo by Elza Fiuza, Agência Brasil, shared on Portal Ecodebate (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

And some fear it won't stop with sugar cane. Forestry scientist Paulo Barreto from the Instituto do Homem e do Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Institute for Man and the Environment in the Amazon, IMAZON), believes [pt] there might be economic pressure for the production of ethanol in the long term:

 O problema é se o etanol se tornar uma comodity global. Aí seria negativo pois criaria demanda para desmatar mais, mesmo que indiretamente.

The problem is if ethanol becomes a global commodity. This would be a negative as it would create a demand for greater deforestation, even if indirectly.

Deforestation in the Amazon. Photo by Bruno Taitson of WWF-Brasil

Deforestation in the Amazon. Photo by Bruno Taitson of WWF-Brasil

According to data [pt] from Reuters, in May 2013 Brazil exported 139.8 million liters of ethanol, a 36.6 percent jump from the 102.3 million liters shipped in April of the same year. The receipt from the fuel sale added up to 93.9 million US dollars in May, a 30.6 percent increase in relation to the 71.9 million US dollars registered in April. However, there was a fall in volume and financial value relative to the same period in the previous year.

On Twitter, environmental experts also criticized the Senate's decision. Geographer Gustavo (@Guveronesi) tweeted:

@Guveronesi: Rumo a virarmos um imenso canavial. “Comissão aprova plantio de cana na Amazônia Legal” http://www.oeco.org.br/salada-verde/2

@Guveronesi: Headed in the direction of becoming an immense sugar cane field. “Commission approves planting sugar cane in the Legal Amazon” http://www.oeco.org.br/salada-verde/2

Ex-Senator Marina Silva (‏@silva_marina) commented:

@silva_marina: Liberação da cana na Amazônia não tem lógica. outro retrocesso ambiental fruto d barganha política. Meu artigo de hj http://migre.me/eAB9S

@silva_marina: Freeing sugar cane in the Amazon isn’t logical. Another environmental retreat thanks to political bargaining. My article today http://migre.me/eAB9S

Writer Frei Betto (@freibetto) emphasized:

@freibetto: Plantar cana ou soja na Amazônia é decretar o fim da floresta e o início de futuro deserto do Saara no norte do Brasil.

@freibetto: Planting sugarcane or soy in the Amazon is to decree the end of the forest and the beginning of a future Sahara desert in the north of Brazil.

Online petitions against deforestation in the Amazon are attempting to mobilize society. Created by the entity Action B. Brasil, the petition against sugar cane monoculture [pt] has received more than 126,000 signatures. The largest petition on behalf of the preservation of this natural heritage is “Salve a Amazônia!” [pt] (Save the Amazon!), which has already reached more than 2.2 million signatures.

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